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Just Keep Smiling! Tips on Art Shows

by Sharon E. Allen on 5/18/2017 9:51:14 AM

This post is by guest author Sharon E. Allen, This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. We've promoted this post to feature status because it provides great value to the FineArtViews community. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 48,000 subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites. This author's views are entirely her own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.





For me, and for other artists who have been "next door neighbors" at recent art shows, art sales at Art Fairs and Exhibitions have been dismal.  And while it is a statement on the economy (no "expendable cash" for frivolous purchases like art), I think it's also a statement on the tone and attitude of society as well, and there are some very positive things to say in addition to some negatives.  This blog post may be as much of a "pep talk" for me as it is for anyone else!

Tip #1:  Be a people watcher and learn to read body language. A painting buddy of mine, who has been in 3 recent shows with me, on Sunday watched a woman in the grassy common area at the center of the ring of booths and made a valid comment to me that truly should have been directed at her but it would have been too rude to do so.  The woman stood at least 8 feet away from every booth entrance - far enough out that she felt sure that we would not engage (and she was correct!) and peered towards each booth but never actually took even a single step towards the doorway.  My friend looked at me and said "I don't get it.  Why even COME to an art show if you're not even going to LOOK at the art?"  In my opinion, that's an extremely valid question. Had she never been to a show before and didn't know what to expect?  Was she looking for sculpture?  Photograph?  Something other than paintings?  Was she short on time and simply scouting to see if it would be worth her while to come another day?  Since he made that comment, I've noticed quite a few visitors doing the same thing, and so I've decided to start acting on it. 

Tip #2:  Engage the visitor, especially when they don't expect it.  I've decided now that when I see someone performing the above non-approach and non-looking, I go out to them and say "You look a bit confused.  Can I help you find something?  Are you looking for a specific artist or a specific subject?  Is there a particular medium that you're trying to find?  Jeannie over there does watercolors, I have mostly oils..."  By then I'll usually have an answer like "Oh no, I'm just here with my sister - she's the one who's looking for a painting for her bedroom."  ("Ah - what is your sister wearing?"  goes unsaid) OR you find that she's actually looking for a sunset (or dog, or seascape or...) but doesn't see any in which case you hand her your card and say "Mine are on the inside.  Come on over!"

Tip #3: 
Have a story to tell about each art work - better if the story is true so you can repeat it later if necessary, but have a story of some type.  But leave a lot open for the viewer to fill in.  One painting that's currently in my booth features bears in a strawberry field, and it's a 3:1 ration studio piece worked up from 2 smaller plein air pieces.  I've been explaining that much of my work is plein air work (and explain what that is) and that I often use the small works to create larger, more detailed works.  I have the 2 plein air studies hanging below the piece (now - I did NOT do that earlier in the week) and can show them the similarities and differences and then also tell them about the ACTUAL bears that crossed the road just 30 feet away while we were painting.  So far that hasn't served to sell any of the 3 pieces, but it HAS led to questions like "How about this piece?  Where were you when you did this one?  Does it have a story?"  They WANT a story.  And I believe that IF the story matches their own experience then their heart has been touched and the painting has found its owner.

Tip #4:  Be vague, when possible.  I've witnessed a lost sale based on truth.  To husband: "Oh look,  honey!  That looks just like the place we visited on Prince Edward Island!" To artist:  "Where is that scene?"  Artist: "Such and such island off the coast of Georgia".  To husband and artist:  "Oh.  No.  It's beautiful, but it's not where I thought it was."  Pouting.  Ummm...artist, please bite your tongue and do NOT say "excuse me, lady - if it looked that much LIKE the place with the happy memory, why not buy it?"  Just smile and say something like "Well, think about it for awhile and if that happy memory keeps popping up all afternoon, then come back!"  Hand them your card and write your booth number on it if it's a large fair.

Tip #5:  Actively give out your business card or rack cards or whatever you use for advertising.  Don't expect them to take one on their own.  How many times have you yourself said "Gee, I should have gotten that guy's card because now I can't remember his name."  Say, "Here's my card. Visit my website when you need your next wedding... birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc! Nice to meet you!"

Tip #6:  Accept all compliments and shut your mouth.  Just say "Thank you so much!" and nothing more.  You don't want to sound pompous but at the same time if  you say something like "You're too kind" then you sound insecure and unworthy of their praise.  Lately I've had the elating but frustrating experience - several times now - of a non-purchasing visitor actually taking the time to make their way back to MY tent to say "I just wanted to come back  because I just have to tell you that of all the paintings that I've seen here today, I really love yours the best.  You're amazing!"  I just grit my teeth and smile broadly and say "Well, thank you!" without adding "that's nice of you to say, but that doesn't buy any paints or canvases!"  Hand her my card.  Heck, you never know - in another month s/he may be calling to inquire about a particular painting seen today while they were replacing the roof on their house.  You NEVER know.  So just smile and hand out cards like mad!

Summary?  #1 Observe.  #2 Engage.  #3 Engage.  #4 Engage vaguely, but engage.  #5 Engage.  #6 Engage.  See a pattern?

Next week I think I'll develop my opening statement about the economy and societal attitudes ... it's got me thinking deeper along those lines!

So much to paint, so little time!



You can view Sharon's original post here.



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Related Posts:

On Marketing and Networking

The Why, Which, Who, When, Where, What, and How of Fine Art Shows

The Psychology of Art Shows

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Art Shows, Awards and Magazines

Art Shows

Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art marketing | exposure tips | FineArtViews | Guest Posts | Instruction | sell art | art show 

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While nice to hand out a card, it's not your prospects job to keep track of YOU. I'm pretty sure most cards get tossed. Far better that you keep track of THEM. I have a clipboard with sheets attached to collect email addresses. I've gotten over 800 email addresses by telling them I send out an eblast before every show (I use with my art uploaded) so they can come find me again, plus my eblast has all my contact info, including website. Often at least half my sales are from clients resulting from these eblasts.

Your comments are right on. I am always amazed at the complete indifference of some art show attendees. Most men alone are not buyers I have found. They don't have permission most times to buy art. Small stuff maybe.
As to engaging, here, here. I do it almost to the point of hawking, an old term. I call out to those who stand 8' out and say Welcome to Art That Makes You Laugh 'n if you want to catch on to the humor (my humor) you need to read a few titles (and then I extend my best selling prints to ask them to come forward to read the titles). Out of politeness they come forward, we engage, they laugh and finally "get it"! This works for me a lot.
In the past shy artists would sit in the back of there booths reading and waiting for someone to come it. Now they're on their phones reading. Some improvement. Yes, engaging in whatever way works is a biggie! If I did not do that, my sales would be 1/3 of what they are.
Yes, art show sales have tanked a lot since the recession but we keep plugging. Too many seniors tell me they have no wall space as a sure fire way to get out of buying. I tell them I'd be glad to come over to their home with the art they buy from me and take some stuff down (that I don't like). This gets a laugh but does not work!!!
Hey, I do humor. What can I say?
Sometimes, on the subject of have a story, I tell more about me and my process of creating humor and what it does for people who own my art. It makes a home happy. Yes, it does.
But did you hear about the woman who inherited a million dollars and lost it all doing art shows?
OK I'll shut up now. Jeff Leedy

Denny Martindale
Excellent article Sharon, I have to agree with everything you said! I am actually taking a break from shows (due to lagging sales and family care) but am reading up on other's experiences and advice for future shows. Like you I am always amazed at shows, and how people act as though the entire event is not what they expected. I guess we are also educators to those that just don't understand the art world. God bless and keep educating!

Ernie Kleven
Thanks Sharon. Doing Art Fairs is a tough business, especially these days with the real estate economy being what it is, but there is always a way and the way usually involves friendliness and salesmanship.

At the same time one has to accept that your work will doubtful be loved by everyone. If only 20 percent of the public likes your work well enough to purchase it 80 percent will just walk by with barely a glance. That means 4 out of 5 lookers just aren't interested. You can take solace in that fact at least and stop beating yourself up. I know, it still hurts, doesn't it?

Kathy Liwin
I'm doing a one day Art Fair Saturday. Timely post for me to read today. Will take the advise to heart!

C. W. Collins
Thank you. This is very helpful. I have a booth for my first craft show in two weeks. I'm reading up on all of this so that I can try and make this a success. I will be happy if I just get people to stop and look at my art. Any advice is very welcomed.

Sharon Weaver
If you just think about talking to people and forget that you have to sell something people will respond and remember to listen. You should not be doing most of the talking once you have them stopped at your booth.

Walter Paul Bebirian
here is a video about me talking about giving out my cards in the area of Greenwich Village -

Andrea Edwards
Thank you Sharon for this interesting post. Yes I think keep engaging, smiling (no matter what) and handing out those cards etc is the way to go!

I also have been hearing more of subsequent sales ie) those not actually done at the art show but sometime and somehow that happen later. Lastly but
key - it's not personal- Your style may just not be that persons cup of tea at that time.

Kind regards
Andrea Edwards Artist, Sydney, Australia.

Walter Paul Bebirian
sold - just last night:

how much longer will there be a disconnect between the two markets - the artists attempting to sell their work at different venues and the after market sales at auctions where pieces skyrocket in price beyond comprehension after an artist has left the planet -

can you tell me why this is?

perhaps this is because of the clash of the two parallel universes:

I have also found that many of the people who stand back and just 'look' are actually artists, or wannabe artists themselves. Often looking to see what others are doing, style, medium, to learn how to improve themselves. Also, many attend art shows for 'something to do', along with a nice lunch or something. lol. At least they show up, a crowd is always better for the rare buyer to feel they have 'beaten the crowd' to that coveted piece. Jus' sayin'...

PS - my humble advice also?
NEVER EVER sit and read or look disengaged at an artshow - EVER! ALWAYS stay alert and attentive, inviting and approachable. SMILE. A LOT. NOTHING is more awful than an aloof and uninterested artist at a booth who seems to feel they won't sell anything anyway, or worse - too above the crowd to be bothered. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but well, I know of many sales that did not happen because the (possible) buyer was put off by the artists seeming attitude, whether it was true or not.

engage engage engage - that's so redundant - I have heard that for at least 40 years - Why do art fair artists expect any client to walk in cold, and with no interaction, buy, buy, buy or purchase? What is in it, for the client? - there is no entertainment, no venture, no adventure and no 'tall story' to take home with an artwork. Some of these fairs could offer clients an adventure - something a winning client can 'crow' about when they do take an artwork home.
There could be a competition for multiple clients to win a posing position in a plein air figurative painting painted on location at the show; offer the clients interaction - an adventure to take home and talk about years later. An adventure is fun; interaction is fun; To have a painting with self and others at the art fair hanging on your walls is cultural inclusion; "I was there - I am a part of the Great American Art Scene."

That is a very interesting comment, Ferreo, and one that I will take into consideration! My plein air works are generally landscapes, but you're right - there's no reason that alla prima figuratives couldn't be part of a fair. I personally tend to think of an art show/fair as an outdoor gallery and think that people would come to a show for the same reason that they would go to a gallery - because they're actually hoping to find an artwork to love - but some live entertainment could be an unexpected bonus!

Walter Paul Bebirian, the very short answer to your question about the disconnect in pricing on the secondary market for those artists who are no longer on the planet is the simple rule of supply and demand. An artist's work generally becomes more valuable because once s/he has passed there will be no NEW art created - what exists is all that there is and so it becomes a rare commodity.
Love all your comments, links, and videos - very appropriate!

I am so surprised that someone agrees with me - you gave me(almost)tears of joy. I live in LA County - if you live anywhere near LA, maybe we should get together and plan a new kind of Plein Air Art Fair.
I have written a imaginary Art Fair article. If you would like to read it, send your email address.
my is


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