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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Displaying Art for Sale

My DIY display, a compromise of cost, practicality, and appearance.
I used it both inside and outside though it was not ideal for either.
(We hauled about 75 paintings and these eight, zigzagging flats--
 chicken wire covered by white burlap--in a horse trailer.)
For virtually every young artist, art fairs are something of "rite of passage." I used them as my primary marketing outlet for at least twenty years--well past the point I was still a young artist. Whether they're inside at a holiday arts and crafts event or outside in a hot and humid park, they're where artists go to sell art, and perhaps more importantly, where they learn to sell art. It's where they learn what works and what most assuredly doesn't. They learn from personal experience in dealing with might-be buyers and from other, more seasoned, purveyors of creative endeavors. Such shows are where artists come to realize that very often as much thought, money, and effort goes into selling art as in their creating it. And it's also where they learn that the two go hand in hand--you don't create what won't sell, and naturally you don't sell if you don't create.
The gallery in a Columbus, Ohio, mall which handled my work
billed itself as an "Art Outlet." It was definitely second-tier,
but sales were good until the Great Recession hit town.
Key to any success, whether on the art show circuit or in the ritziest high-end gallery is the display of the artist's work. Naturally, there's a great deal of difference between the two but many of the same marketing principles apply. It basically comes down to four factors:

A typical high-end art gallery with movable display panels.
The red is a little unusual but eye-catching.
1. Taking aim at a single market: Even on the art show circuit (sometimes termed a "trade show" at the high end) there are two buyers--those buying for resale and those buying for their personal collection. They expect tastefully restrained displays, perfect lighting, an uncluttered venue, and a low-key approach to selling in which the artists recognizes the nature of his or her client then discretely adjust any sales effort to that buyer's purpose. Individual buyers want quality over quantity (exclusivity) with the price of little consequence. Wholesaler buyers want both with price making all the difference in the world. They're in a tough, dog-eat-dog market.
The best outdoor display money can buy (short of laying down carpet).
2. Taking aim at buyers: If the artist, for instance, paints mostly classic automobiles, the general audience shows and crafts fairs will draw few sales; while at a classic car show the artist might find himself as the "only game in town." Landscapes have a broad appeal. Still-life's, much less so. Nudes (at some shows) may find you setting up your display in a back alley. Choose your shows carefully and display accordingly. Landscapes require large displays, paintings of kittens and puppies, which often sell quickly but at quite modest prices, are usually small, allowing the artist to display a wide variety.
Booth displays designed for designer jewelry.
3. Match your media to your display: Obviously, you wouldn't display jewelry in the same manner as oil paintings or ceramics. But beyond that, your display of watercolors would (or should) differ noticeably from a display of oil paintings. To gain attention, watercolors must be tastefully matted and framed under glass (or Lucite) to be attractive, all of which are fragile, heavy, and expensive. Once a buyer's attention is captured, a "tickler" rack with matted works, Mylar in lieu of glass and frame is sufficient. Oil paintings, (and especially acrylics) depending upon the surface material, are seemingly indestructible as compared to watercolors. A little dirt and moisture, either one fatal to a watercolor, easily wipes off with a paper towel. However, few artists would put canvas paintings in a "tickler" rack. Doing so would scream "trash I can't sell."
An indoor booth display for selling paintings or photos.
4. Decide on a marketing plan and displaying accordingly: Here there are basically three approaches--the rifle, the shotgun, and the hand grenade. With the rifle approach, the artist zero's in on a single type of buyer in terms of price, content, display, and media, then picks them off with sales like a sniper (usually the high-end model). The shotgun approach requires the artist to carry a broad quantity and variety of works, though concentrating on size, media, content, and modest pricing, aiming at Walmart-like quantities and appeal. Quality and eye-catching showpieces remain important, but so is the time invested in each piece to keep costs down. As for the hand grenade, I don't recommend it unless the artist cares little about sales and still less about the incredible effort they demand. He or she simply draws and paints whatever the hell they like, hangs it up for the public to gape at in great quantities as cheaply as possible. Then the artist (figuratively speaking) pulls the pin, watching to see what happens next. As unlikely as it may seem, this approach does actually work, though it's not likely to propel an artist into a major urban art gallery.
An outdoor display booth ideal for selling paintings.
Easels are inexpensive, practical,
and ideal for eye-catching
featured work, but also tend
to add clutter to a display.
An artist can divert his or her time, energy, and money into a do-it-yourself display (many of which, my own included, look exactly like what they are). Or the artist can invest an inordinate amount money into a slick, professional-looking indoor or outdoor displays (they're seldom compat-ible), which either drive up prices or drive down profits (or both), while risking little or no im-provement in sales. The decision is a tough one and cannot be made without regard to the four principles I covered above.

Adapting a display to the
product (lye soap).


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