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Engaging In Conversation

by Lori Woodward Simons on 4/3/2009 12:45:41 PM

This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Find out how you can be a guest author.

When I was seven years old, my mother (single mom) worked in the dry cleaner below our apartment on a down-town street in Copaigue, NY. At the time, I had a home tutor who arrived each weekday afternoon, so instead of doing my homework, I'd often meander down onto the street's sidewalk - stop in each shop and talk to the proprietors. Many of them looked forward to my daily visit and they often gave me pocket change. By the time I got to the end of the block, near the train station and corner grocery store, I had accumulated nearly a dollar... quite a sum for 1962.

Incidentally, I became friends with the daughter of the owners of the corner grocery as well, and so they often gave me free food. While it might seem that these town-folk were generous to me because they thought I was poor, I like to think they gave me money because they liked me. And I imagine they liked me because I liked them too.

Selling Is Conversations
What does all of this have to do with selling art? Everything! Because selling is conversations, and conversation is about being friendly and helping people to like you. If they love your art and they like you too, you run an excellent chance of developing a life-long collector.

Recently, Steve Doherty, the editor in chief of American Artist, wrote a thought-provoking blog on how friendly artists sell more art. You see, no matter how great an artist is at his or her craft, an arrogant artist makes collectors feel small -- resulting in meager art sales. Even if you have a gallery owner or agent pitching for you, there will be times when you have to face collectors. Be pleasant and practice quiet confidence rather than arrogance.

So how does one strike up friendly conversations with collectors at an art opening or show?  Here are some ways that work well for me. Keep in mind that it takes time to learn the ropes of casual conversation in an art selling situation -- I learned how by participating in outdoor art shows. This is a huge topic, and I could write quite a bit about it, but for today, I'll list a few things to keep in mind while talking to would-be collectors.

Offer A Smile

1. Offer a warm smile to anyone who wants to talk to you. Be pleasant as a golden retriever - be interested in THEM. I like to find out where they're from -and  in a few minutes, I usually find that we have something in common. Whatever they tell you about themselves - is what you should later write down in your database -- so you can talk intelligently to them the next time you see them or talk on the phone. Learn a little about their lives. When you get a moment, write down names and what you know about these people in a small notebook - but do it discreetly.

2. Turn the conversation to the artwork:
After a bit of casual chatting, turn their attention toward the artwork. Point out which works are yours and invite them to spend some time with the art. Then leave them alone and talk to someone else. If they decide they like your art and want to purchase it, they now feel like they know you - and have established a connection.

3. Here's what not to say: Avoid saying anything negative about  your work. In fact, avoid phrases like: "I tried to" or "I had trouble with"... this is a time to act as though your work is flawless, no matter how you really feel about it. That's not to say that you take on an arrogant attitude by acting as though it's the best work in the show. And never, NEVER say anything derogatory about another artist's work in a public setting. Knocking down the work of others is in poor taste and will not make your work look any better.

4. Learn to talk intelligently about your work: Don't force people to look at your work, that puts them on the spot, but if you catch them standing and looking at one of your pieces intently... ask what drew them to that piece. Agree with whatever they say - let them build their own vision about the artwork. I might share a little bit about why I pained it, but no matter what I say, I keep it brief.  No one wants to hear me drone on and on about my work. After all, it hit them visually - how much more needs to be said?  If they ask specific questions, I answer briefly in a positive light.

5. Learn to read body language: If you've trapped someone into a conversation who isn't truly interested in your work, then let them go. Making them engage in conversation about  your work when they're not wanting to, is rude and will drive them further away. Be gracious - if their eyes are darting around the room and they're turning their body away from you, it's time to let them go. When I'm tuned into body language and realize they're silently saying they want to move on, I'll give them a break by saying that I need to talk to other folks or else give a warm smile and say, I've kept you too long, enjoy the show.  Honesty goes a long way.

6. Don't worry if you make mistakes: You will until you get lots of practice in public. I've made them all, and have figured out which behaviors and phrases to avoid. Just keep in mind that if people love your artwork and like you too, they are more inclined to become your collectors, and people generally will like you if you like them.

7. Draw boundaries: At every show, there is usually another artist who decides to trap me with unrelated conversation or even worse, begins to criticize my work in front of collectors. Here is where I put boundaries in place. Sometimes I ask the other artist to leave the critique for another time - I inform them that it might hurt my sales. When an artist begins to get into a long winded conversation about art marketing or art technique, again, I explain that I need to engage with collectors and take opportunities to sell my work at the show. If they want to talk to me about these things, they can contact me via my web site, and I give them a card.

8. Ask everyone who seems interested in your work to sign your guest book or visit your web site, and ask them if they would like to receive your email newsletter. Now if any of these people later buy directly from you,  you still owe the gallery a commission. After all, if it were not for the gallery show, you would not have met them. Of course if you're selling on your own, you get the whole commission. By the way, if you sell in galleries, the works you sell on your own need to stay the same retail price as in the gallery setting. When you sell on your own, you get the sales commission - don't subsidize the collector by selling to them at a wholesale price.

Hope that helps you get started. If you have specific questions, please feel free to add them to the comments section on this blog.




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Related Posts:

On Selling Art - Part 2

On Selling Art - Part 1

Practicing Quiet Confidence

Art Marketing is Conversations

Topics: Art Business | art marketing 

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Loading comments...

Denise Hall
via web
Thanks so much for the advice on having conversations. I just started having some opportunities this year to present my work to the public and I found it sort of difficult to engage in conversations with people that come by to see my art and are interested. I really appreciate you sharing!

william duckett
via web
very true. knowing when to let go and keeping their interest level high is omni-important. great article -----shortguy

Catherine Zakutney
via web
Thanks for 'spelling it out' about engaging customers in conversations. I've recently had my first gallery show and am still quite unsure of myself. An appreciated topic!

W. J. St. Christopher
via web
Excellent article -- your advice is on the money!

I'm naturally gregarious, and am surprised at how many artists are shy and retiring when exhibiting their art. There's nothing I love more than the 'meet & greet' along with a chance to discuss my work, which usually leads to sales.

If anything, I have the opposite problem -- invariably, there's at least one person who wants to spend huge amounts of time 'hanging with the artist', which can take my attention away from other potential buyers.

Have any good tips on how to gracefully terminate a conversation that has gone on too long? Especially if the 'hanger' has made a purchase and I don't want to alienate them?

Diane Overmyer
Thanks for these tried and true comments Lori. As a fellow artist, I appreciated everything you shared, and as a gallery owner, I especially appreciated what you shared about sales resulting after a showing at a gallery, and how your prices should remain the same, no matter how they are sold.


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