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Chapter: Traditional Places to Sell Your Work
Art shows and Festivals
One of the most direct ways to market your work is to display and sell it yourself. And one of the most enjoyable ways to do this is to exhibit in art shows and festivals. Keep in mind that there will be up front costs in going this route, possibly considerable costs if you plan to do outdoor festivals with a canopy, etc. You will need a display booth, lots of original work, marketing and selling materials, and a vehicle big enough to haul all this stuff! Original, two dimensional work will likely need to be matted and framed.
Art shows vary widely in size, cost, quality, number of exhibitors and number of attendees. Most shows require an application fee and then a booth/display fee if you are accepted into the event. The majority of shows leave the handling of sales up to you, though some shows still take a percentage of sales made onsite.
The first task is to find the shows in which you wish to exhibit. Many states and regions have art leagues and associations which list local art shows. Start with these organizations. For nationwide listings, try either the Sunshine Artist Magazine or an online search of shows in your chosen area. The local chamber of commerce is another good source. After you identify shows of interest, you can write or email the contact person of each show for an application.
Once you decide to enter a show, you will need to submit an exhibitor application. Take note of the application deadline, as most shows will not accept entries received after that date. The application will outline the show regulations and fees required. Art shows vary extensively in rules and regulations. Most of the better (i.e. quality of exhibitor art and potential for sales) shows limit artwork exhibited to that which is handmade. Any reproductions, including prints, may be limited or not permitted at all. Make sure to read the application completely before applying to the show!
In most cases you will need to send two separate fees with the art show application. The first is known as a jury fee or screening fee. This fee is non-refundable, and must accompany the application. Jury fees typically range from $5 to $35. The second fee is the booth fee. This is the fee you pay for space at the show. A standard booth space is 10 foot by 10 foot. Depending upon the size and quality of the event, the Booth Fee may range from $25 to $400 or more. Some shows require this check up front with the application. Other shows request the booth fee upon your acceptance into the show.
Samples of your work will also be required for the application process. 35mm slides, once the standard for jury review, are increasingly being replaced by electronic scans. While it is great to have both available, many shows now contract with an online application service, so the process is handled virtually. Such a service allows you to upload your art files, and then make application to the show online.
Regardless of the form your samples take, top quality is your goal. Whenever possible, you should spend the money to have your art professionally photographed. Remember that this is the only view the art show jury will see of your work. Two dimensional artwork should fill the slide/image area–no matting or framing should be visible. Three dimensional artwork should have a very simple background which compliments the art.
Many shows, particularly outdoor shows, will also require a booth slide or photo as well. In this case, the art show is looking for a picture of your entire display. It goes without saying that this picture should look as professional as possible. To get a good shot of an outdoor display with canopy, try taking the photo on a slightly overcast day (to eliminate hard shadows) and leave the top of the canopy off for nice lighting. Your display should be clean, simple and free of clutter. Less is more here.
After the jury has reviewed your application, you will receive one of three replies: a letter of acceptance, a letter of rejection, or a stand-by (waiting list) notice. The first two replies are self-explanatory. The waiting list simply means that your work did not quite make the first cut; however, you stand a chance of being called in to the show should another accepted exhibitor cancel. It is your choice to remain on the wait list or to withdraw from the show altogether.
Once accepted, you will likely also need to acquire a vendor’s license. Many shows now require evidence of this license before you are permitted to set up. The show’s local auditor’s office will send you an application upon request, and many shows provide this information with the acceptance letter.
If you are planning to do outdoor shows, you will need a canopy to protect you and your work from the elements. This is not the place to save money. Buy the best canopy you can afford. Talk to any artist who has ever lost $1,000’s of dollars of work to wind, rain, etc. and he/she will confirm this. Canopies are offered with many options, including see-through material for skylights and doors, awnings, carrying cases, and more. Skip those canopies with manufacturers that brag about easy set-up in 5 minutes or less. Those tents are usually the first to become airborne in a big wind gust and often leak during rain.
For two dimensional art, you will want standing panels so that you can hang your framed pieces. You may also want a flip bin or two for matted, unframed prints. The panels should be fabric-covered, as plain grids tend to have an unprofessional look. Pedestals are helpful for displaying three dimensional work, and should match or coordinate with any display panels. Some panels are free-standing, and others attach directly to the canopy frame. And don’t forget to take a small desk for writing up sales along with an artist chair.
Weights are a necessity for canopies. You never know when the wind will kick up, and canopies can turn into airborne parachutes. All four legs of the canopy should have weights attached to them. Sand bags and cement blocks work, but a nicer look can be achieved using 4" pvc pipe. Just cut a 2-3' section of pipe for each leg. Cap one end and fill the pipe with either cement or sand. Then cap the other end with a screw eye hook in the cap. This way you can secure the weight to both the top of the canopy rails (using a rope through the screw eyes) and the bottom of the canopy legs (using utility ties.) You can add tie-downs with stakes as well.
Taking part in outdoor shows means planning for the elements. This may mean rain gear, sunscreen, extra clothes and the like. Also, your artwork should be transported and stored in plastic bins as opposed to cardboard boxes. Consider purchasing a heavy-duty dolly. Not only will this make getting the display from your vehicle to the booth location easier, the dolly can also serve as an above-ground table for storing artwork behind your booth. This is particularly helpful should you be treated to a flooding rain.
If you are planning to exhibit out of town, make the hotel arrangements as soon as you are accepted into the show. While an art show alone typically does not fill all the local inns, you may find that other events are in town for the same weekend as the art show. This can make finding last-minute lodging difficult.
Consider in advance what forms of payment you will accept. While cash-only is a nice arrangement for the artist, it generally results in lost sales. If you plan to accept checks, make sure to check identification when accepting the check. If possible, try to get a merchant account before the show so that you can accept major credit cards. This will definitely improve your chances of making sales. Most banks offer merchant accounts, though these days you will probably find better terms and pricing online. (See the earlier section on Getting Paid for more on processing credit cards and merchant accounts.)
Take plenty of marketing materials with you to the show. Even if people are interested in purchasing your work, not all customers will make purchases at the show. And some people may want to contact you later regarding commission work. It is important to let them know how to reach you after the show. At the very least, have professional business cards ready. If possible, also take flyers, brochures, price lists and other materials which you can hand out. And don’t forget sales slips/receipts so that you have a handy track record of sales made at the show. An artist bio and artist statement (telling about you and your work) should be posted in your booth. People want to learn about you!
I have seen numerous articles written on how to make sales at art shows. Most outgoing artists and those with a retail background will preach about the importance of greeting the customer and making conversation. A more subtle approach is to be alert, make eye contact and maintain yourself in a present state. (i.e. you are ready for questions, and not already mentally planning your tear down at the end of the show.) If you are energetically rooted in the moment, the conversation will happen naturally if the customer has any interest at all in your work. If you sit in the back of your booth reading a book and ignoring the customers, prepare to be ignored in return.
Lastly, attitude and presentation can make or break your experience at the festival. On the day of the show, make sure to smile! Purchasing artwork is a joyful occasion for most people. Few will transact with a grouch. It is also important to make a good impression on the show committee. One sure way to not get into future shows is to growl at a committee member. Dress comfortably, but neatly. The paint-stained clothes should be left at home. You are in selling mode now and should dress accordingly.
Another form of art exhibition is the museum show. The application process is similar to that of an art show or festival, usually requiring a jury fee as well as samples of your work. The main difference is that you will have fewer pieces displayed, and the artwork will be on display for many weeks or months. Most museums allow work to be sold, though a percentage of the sale will go to the museum itself. Make sure to take that percentage into account when pricing your work.
You can enter any museum show for which you and your work qualify. Keep in mind that two dimensional works will require matting and framing, and that shipping to an out-of-state museum can be costly. Acceptance into a museum show is a prestigious accomplishment, so make sure to add this to your resume/accomplishments list!
Art galleries often feature a specific artist for shows or exhibitions. This is a wonderful way to display your work to a pre-qualified audience for an extended length of time. The quality of clientele can be quite high in this venue. A gallery exhibit has added benefits, as the gallery staff will advise you on preparation, set-up and marketing for the show. The gallery will often send exhibition announcements to its entire mailing list.
To get started, you will want to call your local galleries and request an appointment. Then take your portfolio of samples, along with some original work if possible. Also take marketing materials to be left with the gallery director. Many galleries host numerous shows throughout the year, and some galleries specialize in showcasing emerging artists. As with Museum Shows, the Galleries will take a percentage of sales, so incorporate this into your price structure.
Brick and Mortar Stores
You may wish to have your work displayed and for sale in a traditional store environment. There are a number of ways to go about this, and I will list several of them here.
Contact local coffee shops, restaurants and other places where artwork is displayed prominently. Offer your work for display for a given length of time. Attach your business card or other contact information to the front of each piece so that viewers may track you down. Some form of an agreement letter is a good idea here, so that both you and the consignee know the limits of the agreement. Consider putting in writing the length of display time, and that any sales made will be handled by the artist. Some locations will be thrilled to have your artwork on display and will allow you to handle any business generated. Others may request a percentage of sales. For myself, I consider moving on to another location if the consignee asks for a percentage. There are too many locations available with better terms.
Local Galleries & Gift Shops
Many local galleries and gift shops are happy to invite new artists into their space. The arrangements are varied. Most work on a consignment basis and take a percentage of any sales. In this scenario, a percentage of sales makes sense, as a gallery or gift shop is drawing a buying crowd to see your work. You have a captive audience and are willing to pay for it. Occasionally you will find shops that purchase from you on a wholesale basis and then re-sell items in their store. In these cases it is best to carefully examine any contract you are asked to sign, as there may be requirements for you to set a limit on the selling price of your work in other venues.
Many framing shops have small art galleries under the same roof. They mat and frame artist prints as a means of showcasing their work. Check with your local framers and ask if they are interested in using your originals or reproductions for display. This can be a display-only arrangement or a consignment for sale. Some frame shops will purchase your work outright if a wholesale price is offered.
Craft Malls and Co-ops
While some artists cringe at this thought, those who are brave enough to delve into the craft mall scene may be happily surprised. A craft mall is a large retail store which rents individual booth spaces to artists and crafters. You usually pay a monthly fee for space rent, and also a small percentage of sales. In exchange you have your own little gallery space. You can change the inventory and the display as often as you like. Some craft malls require that you work at the store a few hours a month, while others are staffed by paid employees. Whether or not artwork will sell in a craft environment depends upon many factors. If you feel the gut urge to give a try, go for it! Some of these outlets operate as co-ops, where your rent is reduced but you also have to work a few hours a month. This could be an annoyance or an opportunity to be social and meet potential customers, depending upon your perspective!
Your Own Studio
This option is becoming more viable in towns that are seeing a re-birth of the arts. Many downtown areas and niches offer reduced rental space to artists. Investigate the area and businesses near you. Contact the local chamber of commerce. Sometimes an existing building owner has a small amount of extra space that he/she would like to lease. Being amongst other artists and artwork has an obvious advantage, as you draw on a crowd already looking for art.
Commercial Contracts and Freelance Work
Put together a flyer about yourself and your work that is specifically targeted to advertising agencies and graphic design studios. If they are looking for specialty artwork for a client, and you may be just the source they need! Send flyers and business cards to the local ad agencies. Include a letter of introduction and invite them to contact you anytime to discuss potential projects. Also consider contacting the major greeting card companies to find out about their freelance artist needs.
There are also a number of online networking groups for freelance artists. (See the Resources chapter.) You can register with these websites, post samples of your work, get contacts from potential clients and even bid on contract/freelance jobs. Many of these projects are geared to the graphic designer, though many also seek illustrators, fine art painters and the like.
With most agency contracts, you will be transferring copyrights to the agency when the project is completed. Remember that this is a deadline-based industry, so your professionalism really needs to shine here. Be very clear in your communications and timely on sketches, final art and production schedule.
Public Art Projects
Public Art is artwork that has been purchased with the specific intention of being placed in the public domain, generally accessible to all. It is pretty much any art which is exhibited in a public space including publicly accessible buildings. Many cities have specific funds set aside for Public Art Projects. Some governments even actively encourage public art by including a Percent for Art policy in budgets. In such cases, typically 1% of the construction cost is dedicated to purchasing art. City and State government programs vary, so you will need to investigate your local and surrounding communities to see what Public Art Projects are currently available for artist submission. Once you are on their list(s), you will be notified of upcoming projects as well.
Residencies and Grants
Artist-in-Residence programs allow artists and other creative people to have time/space away from their usual environment. They provide a space for reflection, research, and creation. They also provide a forum for an artist to meet new people, use new materials and experience a new location. Some programs pay an amount, but expect you to interact with the public by offering tutorials or demonstrations. Other programs pay a small stipend, and some expect you the pay them. The opportunities are unique and highly varied. For instance, the Grand Canyon has an Artist-in-Residence program. Start with an internet search ... and see where it leads you!
Artist Grants are another potential source of income. One of the best places to start researching this subject is the local library. Libraries maintain reference catalogs on the local and national institutions offering grants. They track grant sizes, specifications, requirements, etc. Many libraries also offer free classes on making application for grants. While the classes may be targeted towards non-profit entities, much of the information they supply may prove useful to you.
Both Residencies and Grants require a rather substantial application process, and a significant lead time. You will want to do your footwork well in advance.
Wholesale Your Artwork
Wholesaling your work means that you sell you art at discount (usually in some volume) to a retail outlet. The purchaser than marks up your work and re-sells it to their clientele. Unless your original works take little time to create, wholesale business would be reserved for your reproductions. One could wholesale prints, note cards, greeting cards, or other mass produced items.
Contact retail gift shops, traveling vendors at trade shows or expos, and online merchants to see if they are interested in purchasing your work wholesale. Wholesale nets you less on a per/piece basis, though that is counter-balanced with volume or the size of the total sale. This approach can be a great option as part of an overall business marketing plan. You can set a minimum dollar amount for wholesale transactions. (You don’t want to offer wholesale prices on a piece by piece basis.) In this way you cover your administrative costs with the volume of the sale. Wholesaling opens you and your work up to markets you might not otherwise reach. Typically, wholesale prices are 50% of retail. So, if you sell matted prints for $40 each, a wholesale customer would expect to pay $20/each, plus shipping of course. Getting your work into one top quality catalog could be a major career-enhancer!