Recently I drove south for the San Diego Artwalk. Standing in a booth with my art, surrounded by 350 other artists and 100,000 people is a pendulum swing of contrast from the typical artists’ solitude in the studio.
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Like an athlete pre-visualizing for a game, I spent the weeks prior framing art, scribbling notes about booth layout, and going over everything from logistics to conversations.
Sure it’s a little extra work, but being prepared before presenting your art to the public is what makes these shows mangeable and fun to attend. I’ve been attending the San Diego Artwalk for over a decade now, and I’ve got some tips to help you prepare for exhibiting and talking about your art at a show. Grab a notepad and let’s dig in!
1. Prepare for common questions
Grab a beverage and write (writing vs typing helps you retain information) brief, friendly answers in your notepad to questions that might be asked. Often, folks are just being conversational and friendly, so answer the question with an economy of words, and then ask something back. Volley the chit-chat.
• What’s the difference between oil paints and watercolors?
• How did you make this?
• Is there a story behind this painting?
• Do you paint from photos that you take?
• How long did it take you to paint this?
• Where do you get your frames?
• Is this landscape from (insert place)?
• Can I get this with a different frame?
• What’s the difference between printmaking and a print I’d buy at Target?
• Do you have a website where I can look at more, or buy something online?
With just a little preparation before the event, you won’t find yourself fumbling for an answer, or taking too much time doing all the talking!
2. Swap art supplies for presentation supplies
Discussing art with a family member, or writing about it on a blog isn’t the same as standing with your art among hundreds of strangers at a venue where the whole premise is to sell your art. So shiny-up your presentation skills:
Have business cards or postcards with your contact information handy, and offer them (casually) to folks you’ve chatted with.
Bring a blank notebook with a couple of pens, and ask the people you’ve had conversations with if they’d like to be added to your mailing list, so you can send a postcard or an email about future shows, or studio sales (make sure you can read their email or postal address before they walk away).
Wear a name badge. Even though your art might have a label next to it, or a sign close by, art festivals and exhibits are an overwhelm of visual information to attendees. They won’t all know you’re the artist connected to the work next to you; you could be a gallerist or a sales person. Wear a name tag, and when they ask “Is this your art?” just smile and answer, “Yes it is. My name is _______. What’s yours?” Shake hands and welcome them.
Keep an inventory sheet close by. List each piece you’re exhibiting, with the title, media, price and outside dimensions. If a patron wonders if your latest painting will fit over their dresser, you can jot down dimensions on the back of a business card with the title & media of the art, and then offer to collect their contact info to follow up with them later.
Snap photos of your booth set up, along with the environment around the art festival and noteworthy characteristics of the space where you’re exhibiting. If you return to the show next year, you can review your set up, and if you need booth photos to apply to other shows, you’ll have them. You can also write a blog or social media post about your experiences which might be interesting to folks too far away to attend, and informative to other artists considering that show.
3. Don’t judge
Consider the idea that selling your art is more of a service than a job. Patrons – people who love and collect art—are searching for something to line the walls of their nest.
The attendees combing an art exhibit could be looking for a deeply personal piece that moves them, or they could be trying to match a new couch. Don’t judge. You’ll meet folks looking for the latest color trends, or a gift for friends getting married, or a landscape with a path to remind them of childhood walks taken with a recently lost grandparent.
Whether they’re trying to match wallpaper, or looking for a commissioned portrait, help them distill what they find appealing by asking questions about what they already have, what style they’re drawn to, and which subjects catch their eyes, etc. Being interested is easier (and kinder) than being interesting.
4. Remember to not take it personal
Your job, as an artist standing next to the work you’re offering for sale, is to assist buyers with their search for something to add to their collection. Making the art is all about you, but selling your work shifts the focus away from you, to the patron.
You’re in the service of matchmaking; getting your art in front of a collector searching for your style. If your art doesn’t speak to someone surveying your work, and it’s not their jam—there’s no penalty box. It’s simply not a match. That’s not a reflection of your work; it’s a reflection of their tastes, and you should never personalize that.
Yes, you made the art, and there’s a lot of you in the work, but if a collector doesn’t love it, the only conclusion worth pondering is where to find the collectors who are looking for your style, subject, palette and media.
I love salad, and my husband thinks of it as rabbit food. That’s not the salad’s fault as much as it’s a reflection of our varied tastes. Don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t fall in love with your art. Keep searching and showing till you get the art in front of people who do love it. They’re looking for you, too.
5. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Talking about your art is much easier if you have some talking points ready, and you’ve thought about the mechanics of it beforehand. Roleplay art sale conversations with a family member so you can shake your jitters off. Take a friend to an art festival, and pay attention to how each artist you visit interacts with you. What did you like, and what was less engaging? Take some notes over kettle corn and an iced coffee afterwards.
Folks have been selling stuff for thousands of years, so you don’t have to figure it out solo. Do a little research, put a loose plan together, and give it a whirl. Worst case scenario: you’re a drooling, quaking mess at the show with feet-blisters and a sunburn. Nahhh, just kidding! That wouldn’t happen!
Really, the worst case is that you don’t sell. . . but you won’t have time to be discouraged, because you’ll already be busy researching and finding the folks looking for your art. And at each subsequent show, you’ll be honing your skills at presenting your art till you’re an art exhibit superhero!
A very special thanks to Belinda Del Pesco for sharing this post—it has been shortened slightly from the original which can be found here. For more great articles from Belinda, please visit her website!
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