John is a fine artist & photographer. He's taught on TV, is a qualified business mentor & has helped many artists start to earn money.
Why You Should Believe I Can Help You
I will show you how to value your work, how to assess your marketplaces, how to captivate your potential buyers and ultimately how to sell.
I start with the assumption that you love creating art and that your house is probably filled with it. I assume that you need to sell some, to make space to be able to create more. I also assume that you do not have sales and marketing experience already.
For myself, I am a self-taught artist and photographer. My main business is commercial photography but I have made a lot of money creating and selling contemporary fine art too. I worked and created alongside 50 other artists in a very cold, semi-derelict cotton mill in a commercially poor area, just south of Manchester, UK. The area was better known for its vandalism than as a centre for art.
However, together we pushed the boundaries of contemporary art working to create new and novel techniques. Working with my friend James Joseph Collins, we acquired glass kilns to create the early forms of glass-fusion. Artists also worked with molten bitumen on canvas, resin & acrylic-pouring, re-worked sculpture using salvaged building materials and welded scrap metal, as well as the more classical oil paintings and watercolours. All of the artists regularly sold their work, to be able to afford to continue creating and to pay the rental for our studio spaces. For the annual, open-studio events the group continues to welcome 750-1000 art buyers to the opening evening.
I created and sold an entire collection in one night, to one art collector. Ten large pieces of frescos on canvas using quick-setting cement and acrylic paints, painting forms from reclining nudes. Canvases sold for up to $1500 each. My exhibition was featured by a local newspaper, with their feature-editor getting nude for me to paint her. After this, I was invited on to National UK Television to teach celebrity presenters how to draw and paint from the reclining nude.
I have never been taught art and yet here I was, teaching as the "expert."
If I can do it, you can too. It's all about "how" and "where" you present yourself to art buyers.
Canvas Art in a Living Space
Deciding how to value your art:
How these questions can influence your pricing
The question above will either show you how much you value your artworks, or at least open your eyes to the different art-markets that exist.
There are two distinct reasons why people purchase art. It is either:
- To enhance an existing decor, that they will enjoy for as long as that decor exists. However, the artwork is likely to be discarded when the room is re-decorated some time later.
- Or, to be purchased and valued for its own artistic merit, irrespective of where it will be kept. In fact, these buyers may well re-decorate a room to match the artwork and will not get bored of it, or discard it for many years to come, if at all. These artworks can become family heirlooms.
Pricing to become a Successful Selling Artist
For the context of this article, I am talking about pricing unique and original artworks, for which there is only one in existence. Do not confuse this with prints or reproductions made from an original, for which there are multiple copies. The latter are a world apart from the former in terms of pricing and marketing.
There are communities online that talk about the "going rate" for artworks, quoting a fixed fee per unit of linear measurement. To me, this is total rubbish and should be immediately ignored. Rarely are the people who quote these figures successful selling artists.
However, what do you consider to be a "successful selling artist"? For myself, this is a person for whom their main income is generated from creating and selling art, that any other income is secondary to the art sales.
Also, anybody can sell art. Bring the price low enough for a Picasso and somebody will buy it to use it as a table-cloth. Though, hopefully, this will never happen economies do change with values, costs and prices changing with them.
In today's economy of global recession, art-sales and art prices are reduced. However, I was interested to read a recent global economic forecast that instead of citing growth in sales of steel or coal, cited the rise in sales of "foreign holidays" as a positive marker towards growth. In times of recession factors relating to "providing entertainment" always grow, ahead of more traditional markers. Thus it may be possible for art prices to start to rise again to their former glory.
With regard to your art, your price can be reflected by your level of skill and the uniqueness of its creation i.e. how unique is your artwork to your nearest competitor? It can also be reflected by where you are attempting to sell. Selling in a local community centre to any locals who choose to walk in will ask a totally different price from artworks hanging in a prestigious gallery with invited guests, taken from a list of known art buying collectors. For these two examples, the decimal point in the price could move several places between the two locations.
On social media I see artists who resent the commission-for-sale charged by galleries. This is emotion getting in the way of a sale. A gallery is merely another method of selling and when you quote your expected return to the gallery owner, they add-on their expenses, commissions and taxes to make up the proposed for-sale price (or if they don't, you should before telling them your expected return for sale in their gallery). To resent somebody offering to introduce your work to a group of buyers, whom you otherwise would never have had access to, is a childish approach to the business of art sales.
Once you have decided to sell artwork, as oppose to keeping it at home or giving it away, then don't get "precious" about the process. Selling is a business, no matter how small or large, created to make money. Try to think of it in this manner and you will be more successful, as you will be respected by the rest of the business community. Sadly, artists have a bit of a reputation of being "full of themselves" , proud of their abilities, and can have expectations of instant successes that are greater than the skill level of their art or competence at selling. There is a successful gallery close to me, that when representing an artist will not allow that artist to be present at the opening event of their exhibition. This is because they have had problems with temperamental artists obstructing their well oiled sales process.
A gallery's main objective is to make money, showing your art is merely a means to this end result. If you pass up an option to exhibit at a gallery, there will be plenty of other artists happy to take your place. Don't be precious, be down-to-earth and willingly take opportunities to make money.
If you are seriously considering exhibiting with a gallery, the gallery usually charges for this service in addition to taking commission for sales. Thus, it is worthwhile checking out the gallery and other artists they represent before parting with any payments. Find out if other artists have found exhibiting at the gallery beneficial, or not.
Tax need not be taxing
Few artists have a realistic idea of what their art costs them to produce. However, when they start to sell, they tend to become aware of every little cost, no matter how small. As otherwise, they have no idea if they are actually making money when they receive money from a sale. i.e. Without accurate knowledge of your costs and expenses, you will never know if you are making a profit or a loss.
Your costs may comprise of your consumables used to create, such as your paints, solutions, canvases, painting boards etc but may also include any equipment you have purchased to be able to do your creative process. Perhaps you have bought a big table, bright lights, heaters, protective clothing, maybe a camera to photograph your works and a computer on which to make a website. Then you may have a paid subscription to software to enhance your photographs with and you may have bought a domain name and hosting for a website.
All the above are costs that you pay out to be capable of creating and selling your artwork. Dependent upon your local circumstances you may be able to claim as costs some of your household electricity, broadband and phone bill, assuming you use your existing phone to call galleries or potential art-buyers. When you first start selling and creating yourself as a business, it is sometimes a good idea to pay for a small amount of time with a local legal representative, accountant or business advisor to establish what you can or can't consider as a "cost".
In the UK, when an individual artist starts advertising for sale, they are required to register with "Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs" (HMRC) as a sole-trading business. HMRC control how much tax is paid. In the UK, an individual earning money for themselves pays tax on their income, called "income tax". However, income is only denoted as your profit. Hence, why knowing what your profit is becomes very important.
If you don't make any profit but cover all your costs, you don't pay any tax. Also, every person is encouraged and allowed to create income up to a certain amount (several thousand pounds) before being eligible to pay income tax. Thus, an artist can sell their art, cover all their costs and even make a small profit, without becoming liable to pay any tax. The concept of being able to cover costs and not pay tax makes the sometimes arduous concept of selling very attractive to many amateur artists. However, advertising for sale without informing HMRC in the UK can lead to trouble, as you may be investigated for tax-avoidance. Although you haven't actually sold anything, they don't know this but may assume you have and are keeping it secret. Thus, when you start to advertise to sell, that is the time to register with HMRC and remain on the safe side of UK laws.
At this stage, I must state that I am not qualified to give any financial or legal advice. I am not an accountant or lawyer and everybody's individual circumstances may be different. Likewise, rules and regulations can differ dependent upon circumstances or geographic location. Thus, it is important that you familiarise yourself with your local laws and regulations, seeking professional advice where necessary.
Acrylic Pouring Art and the Risks of Simple Processes
Acrylic Pouring Art is a new and very popular style of art. However, it is easy to access the method of production with many video tutorials on YouTube (a random sample is shown below) and groups of artists in social media showing how it's done. Stunning results can be produced by the fast, simple and seemingly random act of paint pouring. How this method is "dressed up" for sale defines how well the artist will sell and profit from their efforts.
Few of the great artists of our time (artists using classical techniques of painting) show how they have created art but prefer to show the finished artworks. This way the buyer doesn't see their errors or indecision of concept but also, by keeping their technique hidden, they enhance their skill level and expert mastery of their medium.
Be careful about who you tell how easy it is to create your style of art. By sharing too much, you risk persuading your potential buyers to "have a go", rather than investing in your skills and artworks. You also risk acquiring competition from artists you have effectively taught how to do it.
One of many videos showing how easy this method is
Sharing can be of great benefit but also a great risk.
It is good to be part of a community of artists (on-line or off-line) who can support each other's learning of techniques. So long as these artists are your equals they pose little threat to you and can be great friends. However, when somebody joins your group, with clearly no knowledge but an expectation that you will share all yours, then I would advise exercising caution of what you share. Don't give away your secrets to those you do not know and who may then become your competitors.
Don't try to sell, just tell a story
Only a small number of people you meet in daily life can sell anything to anyone. These people are professional salespeople. When meeting them, they will be passionate about their product and you up to the point where you part with your cash. After this they can appear cold and dis-interested, as the sale is finished for them and it's time to move on to the next potential sale. Few of us enjoy being sold to by people like this.
If you are not a natural or taught salesperson, don't even try to be.
Selling art is all about "engagement". How you, the creating artist, interact with your potential buyer can define how successful your sales will be. In its own right "engagement" can be a terrifying prospect and thus I ask you to think about the process you go through to create your art and share this as a story with those interested to hear it. Create your story so that is sounds like a complicated and highly skilled process, that you've developed to create your artworks. Talk about how you have been influenced by other great classical artists, nature or whatever but ensure that your method sounds far more complicated and more artistic than the two minute video shown above. To engage and sell you have to prove that your art is not a random event. These people are your potential buyers and by telling your story you are engaging. When you are engaging you automatically become interesting to them and then you are well on the way to a sale.
Thus if you are staffing a stall selling art, or standing in a gallery showing your art, never let somebody just walk past. Smile and say hello. Ask them what they think about the market or the weather (don't directly ask them about your art). Only when they've started to engage with you can you start to tell them your story. If they respond and engage with your story, then you can alter the story to talk about specific pieces but remember you are just talking about how something was created. Do not show a desire to sell, until such time as they are engaging with you about a specific piece and perhaps discussing where it will look best in their house. If I was selling my work and a potential customer was undecided about a piece I would actively discourage them from buying it and suggest they walk away and look at some other pictures. In doing this I appear "honest" in their eyes and though they might not buy from me that day, they might return another day or at least talk about my honest approach to sales with their friends. I know that I have gained new clients as a direct response from sending others away from my art.
Look and Act Professional
It is easier to give money to somebody who looks knowledgeable, thoughtful and professional than to somebody who looks like they've just walked in after a heavy night of drinking the night before. Look and act like a professional, if you want to charge professional fees for your creativity and expect to be paid. It is totally usual for me to wear a suit with highly polished shoes and designer cuff-links.
If you are present at the point-of-sale, have a "sales process" you go through every time. In my case, I have a stack of pre-printed "Certificates of Authenticity" and make a show of preparing one for each completed sale, signing it openly in front of my purchaser. The Certificate clearly states all my contact details, website and social media contacts, giving the buyer even more opportunity to go and look at more of my works. I fold the certificate, place it in an envelope and using sticky tape, attach it to the back of the artwork. I then wrap the artwork in bubble-wrap and give it to the buyer, such that they will hold it under their arm with my design pointing outwards. Then as they walk through the market or gallery, they are further advertising my works to others walking about. Again, I know this has got me more sales and it is always a good feeling to see a piece of your artwork being carried away.
When completing the purchase, whether it's cash or credit card I use a duplicate pad to write down their full contact details on my receipt. I will take as much contact information as they are willing to give me and I will keep in contact with them for ever, if they are willing to accept an occasional invitation to my studio or a gallery opening event showing my work (few decline the latter option, as there are usually free refreshments provided).
Every sale is an opening to another opportunity. There have been many occasions where an existing buyer, having just bought a piece, has returned the next day to buy again, or to introduce me to a friend who is interested to meet me.
Celebrate & Share Your Sales
Shout-Out Your Successes
Go out with your friends and family and celebrate the compliments you receive and the sales of your artworks. Then, shout-out about it on your website and in your social media. If your buyer is happy to, get a photograph of them taking your artwork away as a "happy buyer" and use this picture in future marketing or send it with a short story to the local newspaper. Local interest stories are the bedrock of all local journalism and a growth opportunity for you.
Do use social media. It is a range of totally free marketing tools that you can tailor to your advantage. I have written other articles on "Wowing Clients" and "How To Use Twitter". Both of these could be useful for you to read too.
Art sales can be like a snowball gathering momentum. It can seem difficult in the beginning and a lot of effort for little return but if you work at it, it can become much easier, as your good reputation grows.
In this article I have considered:
- Success from small beginnings, how to become the expert.
- Why people buy art.
- How you value your own art.
- Exhibiting with art galleries
- Costs, profit & tax.
- The value of complicated, the risk of simple.
- The threat of online art tutorial videos.
- Sharing versus competition.
- Selling by storytelling.
- Professional appearance and methodology.
- Celebrations, shout-outs and snowballs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 John Lyons
John Lyons (author) from UK & USA on July 18, 2020:
Eliza, please feel free to get in touch. Where in the world are you? I can't see your profile here for some strange reason?? Thanks for your comments, I'd love to see and share your work via my social media. Cheers, John
Eliza on July 17, 2020:
Thank you John for such an insightful blog. I am a self taught artist and really don’t know what to do next. I was even laughing while reading the first part of your blog because I could relate. My house is full of artworks and I would love to make more but my husband is stopping me because our house is like a storage already!
Thank you really for all the tips. But I would love also to be involved in a group as well so I can meet more people. Probably, after the Covid. Keep safe and Godspeed!
Heather on March 16, 2019:
That was like a perfect resume. Short, informative and simple.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 18, 2017:
I've always doubted my ability to create; I think that I can decorate with what other people create. I like photography though, and still dream of doing something with that. You have given much food for thought--and for action. Thanks!