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On Selling Art - Part 1

by Clint Watson on 3/4/2009 10:42:06 AM

This Post is by Clint Watsonfounder of FineArtViews. Follow Clint on Twitter This article is part 1 of a 2 part series on selling art.

Back in my gallery days, I sold art...quite a bit of art.  In fact, in addition to being the gallery director, I was also one of the main salespeople at my gallery. While we often discuss "big picture" marketing issues in this space, it dawned on me that some of you might find it interesting to peek into my mind and take a look at my ideas on selling art.  Especially ideas regarding the some of the lower-level specific details of selling art. These ideas are not the only ideas that can help you sell art, but some specific thoughts based loosely upon what I used to do.  So if you need some help selling art, read on.

Good record keeping is a prerequisite to selling.  This was key to my art sales and it's key to yours. 

If you read Alyson Stanfield's art marketing book (and I suggest you do), I'd Rather Be in the Studio!, check out Action #2:  Organize your information, it all has to go somewhere.  Alyson's right.  That information does need to go somewhere, so organize it, and make it easy to retrieve when you need it

Here's the information you're going to put into your record keeping system:  Every time you meet a new prospective customer, create a document and make some notes about that particular person. 

Write down what they like, what styles of art turns them on, the names of artists whose works they already own, what they're specifically looking for, any budget information, which artists that you represent that they enjoy (this applies more to galleries since you likely only "represent" yourself), any special events that might be important, their kids names, etc, etc, etc.   It's important to note, that at this stage, you probably won't get ALL of this information, so just record whatever you can.  Also, it's very important to get this information down on "paper" (or in your computer) as soon as possible.  When you're talking with someone in person, you'll have to do your best to remember as many details as you can.  Back in my gallery days, I made a lot of sales by phone, so, in many cases, I was able to jot down a lot of this while conversing with the client.  I suspect you'll be able to as well.

Another important tool that you need for your record-keeping is a good database.  I mainly recorded the customer's name, address, phone number, email address, and most importantly which artists that particular person liked (whether I represented the artist or not).  The database is important because databases make it easy to search for information....information that you'll forget. You want to be able to ask your database to show you everyone whose interested in a particular artist, a particular subject matter, a particular style of artwork, a size range, a price range, etc. 

For example, when a new painting arrived, the first search I ran against my database was the computer equivalent of the question, "who has expressed interest or purchased works by this artist?"  And that gave me a good working list of prospects to immediately start contacting.  You can also think about other artists who paint "similar" to you (or similar to the artist you're working with if you're a gallery person) and have your database show you people interested in the other artist as a good starting point....that can really help out when you're just getting started.  (Incidentally, this is one place galleries have a big marketing advantage over individual artists:  Galleries already have a good prospect list that they can draw upon since they represent multiple artists. Plus, since they represent many artists, their prospect lists tend to grow much faster.  Artist studios, on the other hand, tend to only focus on the works of one artist.) 

In the case of an individual artist, you might get away with not having a sophisticated database for a little while since you're only "representing" one artist (yourself) so theoretically, everyone in your files is interested in you.  But eventually you'll probably need a good database setup anyway since it is invaluable when it comes time to create mail-merge letters and invitations.  Plus, as the art world changes, I think a great strategy for individual artists is going to be to partner with other artists and cross-promote one another's artwork.  Regardless, at a minimum, you should know which artists each one of your prospects enjoy.  The information gives you insights into their tastes.  And to keep track of it all, we're back to the same solution: a database.

If you're "database" is a drawer full of business cards . . . . then I wouldn't be surprised to learn that you're not selling very well.  And as Forrest Gump said, "that's all I have to say about that."

I mentioned earlier that you should create a document of "unstructured" notes about each prospect.  And then I mentioned that you need to keep "structured" information in a searchable database.  However, you can probably find a way to merge these two functions (the documents and the database) into one "big" system.  Modern browser-based applications and databases would be able to handle all of it as one application and that certainly would be an improvement over the way I did it back in the "stone age."

Now that you've got your records in order, what next?

Well, stay tuned, we'll address that question next week in part 2 of "On Selling Art."

Now go change the world.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS - Part 2 is now online, if you want to read it, click here.


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Related Posts:

On Selling Art - Part 2

Artists: Lead Your Collector Clan

Do You Market with Your Packing?

Personal, Timely, and Relevant

11 Art Marketing Questions Answered

Do You Want Traffic or Do You Want to Sell Art?

Do artists need galleries anymore?

Topics: Best | Creativity and Inspiration | Inspiration 

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John T Unger
via web
This is great advice, Clint, and something I'm finally beginning to do myself. For years, if there were notes they were scattered on paper, or written on tables and walls, or in one of 1000 files on the laptop.

I've got a great database for existing buyers now, and definitely need to extend that to people who have expressed interest.

You're right that by creating one system that's all in one place it makes keeping track and adding new notes much easier.

Looking forward to part two!

Jim Johnson
via web

I am trying to locate Mike so I can treat him to lunch next week. I have his email address as; however,he has been unresponsive.

Ring him and ask him to email me at

Most cordially,

Jim Johnson

via web

Ronald Bushnell
When I was a younger artist, I sold myself for money; learning to look for indicators, and becoming an expert at reading people. Those day are over, and the goal now is to produce what I want before I die. My sculpture and paintings are a kind of inference reference to existence with an expression. I would humbly recommend that you do not market your art, or prostitute yourself; but rather produce art with a personal meaning, and leave the marketing to business people.

Before I have a website I need good photography of my oil paintings. Whatever I tryed they look worst than in real. You have an advise ?
Michele Zugrav

Ronald Bushnell
Try polarized filters; or it may be better to trade some work to a professional photographer that has the necessary optics. Photographs will never do your work justice, and the compromise must be made for the online environment. If you can get access to an SLR, try multiple light sources without the flash to help with depth - Good luck!

michele zugrav
Thank you much for advise.


Hi Clint,

I am a self taught painter and now have done 42 acrylic paintings on canvases. Over the last year I have been putting my paintings on display in my office and on Facebook. I am considering joining a local gallery and going through the jury process. The size of my pieces range from 12"x12" to 36"x48". The size of my pieces range from 12"x12" to 36"x48". How does an artist figure out what price to sell his/her art?



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