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What Would You Do? | Turning a Casual Encounter into an Art Buying Opportunity

by Jason Horejs on 11/25/2011 · 75 comments

Earlier in the week I received a great question from an artist regarding the challenge of giving a new acquaintance on opportunity to buy her art without coming off as pushy or creating an awkward situation. Below is her question and my response, but I would love to hear what you would do in the situation, or, even better, what you have done in the past. Please leave your comments below in the comments section.

I was wondering if I could ask you a question that I could not find an answer to from your newest book on selling art.

My question is – as the artist, when I invite someone to my studio, as I always do, if we are just getting to know each other and I have just brought them to my studio to see and experience the work in person and they have not expressly stated that they are looking to buy art but when they are in my studio and moved by all my art, if they express a genuine interest in a particular painting or in a few paintings, how do I switch over and ask them for a sale?

They didn’t come to my studio originally to buy art. They came because we are new “friends” or they have never seen my work in person before or they have always meant to get to one of my Open Studios but never actually made it… So my question is how do I literally switch gears without seeming like a sales person rather than the “friend” I am also cultivating? I feel rude and presumptuous if I all of a sudden start talking about the value of a painting and if they would like me to help them acquire it. I just don’t know how to get there. The missing step going from a friend visit to a sales experience.

I would appreciate whatever you can tell me that would help make these situations more productive, literally for me. Since I am not a gallery, people are not coming to look with the idea that buying is a possibility.
I hope I have not overstepped my bounds here. Your information has been invaluable to me.

Thank you!

MB

My Response:

This is a great question, and you’re right, it is a little different than the situation I face on a daily basis in the gallery. That said, I have had friends come into the gallery and end up making a purchase, and that situation is very similar to what you are describing.

When working with someone who wasn’t necessarily primed to buy, you can carefully probe their interest level by using a little candor and attempting a “soft” close. Something like “I know you didn’t come here intending to acquire a work of art tonight, but it seems like you’ve really fallen in love with this piece – it would be the easiest thing in the world to make it yours.”

By acknowledging the fact that they didn’t come here to be sold to you are removing the awkward nature of the closing attempt. Listen to their response and then apply the principles of my book to resolve any concerns that might be in the way of a purchase.

If anything, you have a greater obligation to try to help your friends get what they want, you just want to be careful not to be too pushy.

Jason

So what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have additional ideas? Please share them below. Allow some time for your comments to be moderated and appear on the site. I appreciate your contribution!

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About 

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

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{ 75 comments… read them below or add one }

Anne kiefaber November 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

That has never worked for me- I have a lot of trouble turning interest into a sale. I actually have tried those techniques at my gallery and it never works. People seem to get scared (at least around here) and though they enjoy my story about how a particular painting was painted, that’s usually the end of it.

Anne

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Lynda November 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

If they seem interested, just say , as it applies, “everything is for sale” or “theses will be in my next show”. You need not corner them. They will respond at their own comfort level

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maurade baynton November 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm

My husband and I have a studio and gallery in our home. When we invite friends to view artwork for sale, we try to have a piece or two in progress, this way we can engage them in the creative process. People really dig this. Very often they will purchase the piece they feel they’ve almost had an insight into creating. After this initial introduction, they are now primed to invest in future paintings. We find most clients are good for 3 – 4 purchases before going on to other artists.

Hope this helps :-)
Maurade

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Barrett November 25, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I have faced the same issue; here’s how I handle it. Once a friend/acquaintance/visitor appears to focus on one painting in my studio, I ask him or her what it is about that painting that draws them. This usually leads to an opening for me to confirm their taste, then to offer the painting for him/her to take home and enjoy for a day or two. No obligation. I do not mention the word “purchase”. Then I say: “should the painting feel right in your home, you may of course just give me a call and let me know you have decided to keep it.”

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Gloria D Lee November 25, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Usually I give them a card with pertinent info and encourage them to give me their information: email etc for future shows. Then I follow up with invitations and phone calls.
Sometimes I encourage with a 10% off if they buy now but that usually doesn’t work because they have to think about it.
The last sale I made involved alot of talking about how the painting was made and the juried show it was in or had been in. I handed out the info about myself and the painting and agreed to ship if he decided he wanted the painting.
A few days later he called and said he wanted the painting and sent a check. Then I mailed the painting and he mailed the shipping cost. Very pleasant sale.
This does not happen all that often.

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Christopher Ray November 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

If someone comes to my studio to visit and shows interest in a particular piece, I usually will mention what’s involved in producing it. If they are interested in buying it then I tell them I will work up an estimate based on production, shipping, and installation to their site. Almost all my sculptures are “models” of the final piece, run up to get an idea of how it works as a sculpture, also built of lighter materials for transport to temporary shows. So what I sell is a replica of the original and cost is figured for permanent material, like bronze, stone, fiberglass (for floating pieces) or steel.

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Amanda Jones November 25, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Hello Jason, I have just read both of your books and found them very insightful. I also ordered Arttracker and I am just loading my inventory. I am really not well organized in that department, and so far it looks like it will be great for keeping me on track and up to date. As regards approaching people who are casual friends etc when they come to see your home studio. I think maybe you could say something like “just to let you know I do sell my work and if you are interested here is a list of my prices” and at that point hand them some information with prices, website info etc. From personal experience I always prefer to see the price instead of having to ask. That way the visitor knows that you are serious about selling and from your point of view you don’t have to tiptoe around the subject. Maybe have sizes and prices on a notice on the wall. The visitor may see something they like and be nervous to inquire, after all a piece maybe $50 or $500 or $5000, it usually comes down to what they can afford. and they don’t want to be embarrased to ask. In a gallery setting it is obvious that the work is for sale and the tags will give the information. I am sure the studio visitor will respect you even more when they know you are serious about your business.

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Amanda Jones November 25, 2011 at 7:55 pm

ps. I also think it is a good idea to cover this information before they show and interest in a certain piece.

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Nicole November 25, 2011 at 8:05 pm

I would be totally scared off if an artist responded as Jason suggested — “it looks like you’ve fallen in love with the piece and it would be so easy to make it yours” — yikes, HELP! I’d be out of there so fast!
I like Lynda’s response, or I might say, “they’re all available for purchase.” Sometimes if you say they will be in your next show, people might think you want them for the show and they’re not for sale.

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Carole Fay Esk'ridge November 25, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Carole Fay Esk’ridge,

There is a myth that Artists should be starving Artists. I have been indoctrinated with this philosophy and feel awkward trying to sell my work on my own. This could be an impossible situation except for the advice of Authors like you.

I believe the institution of Art Galleries must have been invented to bring Art Collectors and Artists together with a Gallery to make the sale. That is why excellent Galleries like Xanadu Gallery truly earn their 50% of the sale price. Making the art is just producing the product. Marketing is the other half of a successful Artist’s career.

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Theresa November 25, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I’ve never said a word to about sales to people who visited my studio, although I have sold my work that way. The art all had price tags, so I never worried about it, just assumed if they were interested, they’d buy it, and that worked.

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Ann Gores November 25, 2011 at 10:28 pm

When I recently brought a friend to my studio, I let her wander around and look at her leisure at my paintings. I turned on some music and let her feel relaxed and at home in my space. I had no idea she was even interested in buying any of my paintings, but after awhile she came up with two paintings she liked! She went home with them that day a very happy lady. And so was I!

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Donna Elliott November 25, 2011 at 11:49 pm

I have had the same experience. I did have one person who liked my work, come back later and purchase it as a gift for her husband. Another time, a friend loved a certain painting, so I cornered her husband at a party later and suggested he buy that as a gift, which he later did. but this is rare. I’ve even had an open studio event which went all day, was lots of work, lots of people came, no one bought anything. It is like you are having an exhibit in a museum. Look, enjoy, compliment, but don’t touch or take anything home, even though I’ve said, “everything is for sale”.

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Donna Elliott November 25, 2011 at 11:53 pm

I had the same experience. I have sold work, though, and also had commissions come from viewers at my studio. I have often said “everything is for sale,” with no results, even at a studio open house.

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David Coblitz November 26, 2011 at 1:35 am

How about this? “I’m glad you appreciate my work. if you happen to know anyone who might be interested in buying one, please feel free to invite them to visit as your guest. I would appreciate the referral.”. This reminds them they’re for sale without being a direct “threat”.

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Dianne Horton November 26, 2011 at 4:23 am

Are the prices right on the paintings or is there a price list offered or is there a big sale so they might think there is negotiation going on as well? I usually include in my responses, “Will this fit in your home?” Sometimes the response is that it is much too large but they love it. That leaves the opening about showing other sizes. This also leaves the opportunity to have them respond that they aren’t buying right now or that they have always wanted a piece of my work. Wow! What an opening that is!!

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Deborah Elmquist November 26, 2011 at 5:35 am

Yes, it feels very awkward. My situation was that my grown daughter brought her close friend over to my house for the first time. I knew her casually and knew that she was financially “okay.” She said she loved my work and started asking the prices. Since the pieces she liked were new and part of a series that I was in the process of building, I fumbled and didn’t have a price on the tip of my tongue. She left and now I would like to have a serious conversation but feel like I blew it and missed the opportunity to make a sale. I guess the lesson is “be prepared.” My only solace is that maybe she was just curious about what I was earning and didn’t have any intention of purchasing a painting.

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Diane November 26, 2011 at 5:49 am

If they’re really good friends and seem very interested in one of my pieces, I think I would approach them by saying, “I know you didn’t come here tonight with a purchase in mind, but if you’re really interested in this particular piece, we’re happy to work with you on it. If we can wrap it up for you tonight, I’d be delighted to throw in the frame free of charge just for you!” Or, if they’re still dragging their feet, I might suggest something down with terms of monthly installments, but just to real good friends that you know you can trust.

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Wendy Vaughan November 26, 2011 at 6:03 am

Never pressure someone into buying a painting. If they are interested in a piece they will ask you what the price is. If friends feel like they will be pressured to buy when they come to your studio, they will avoid visiting.

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Gregory Johnson November 26, 2011 at 6:40 am

When a potential client comments favorably on one of my sculptures or paintings, after saying “thank you”, I point to my own collection of other artists. I describe how having “this work by Artist John Doe” rewards me every day, because when I look at the work, it gives me peace of mind, and it is just plain beautiful. And I feel successful. I remind them that they can fill up their home and yard with cheap works of art, or they can define themselves by tastefully selecting quality works over a period of time. And end up with a collection of fine works over their lifetime. If all goes well, I address making a payment plan, as art can be expensive….and finally, remind them of an art collector that bought my first work for $3 when I was in the third grade. If I don’t make the sale, I’ve primed them for a new way of thinking, and hopefully they will buy some work, later…even if it’s not mine.

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Harley Bartlett November 26, 2011 at 7:17 am

Never “work” a friend. If there is genuine interest they will pull the trigger. A trickier situation can be when a buyer/collector becomes a friend. In these situations I back off a bit, so as to allow a friendship to blossom. What you might gain by treating a friend as a friend first is true friendship – and, ironically, they can become one of your best salespeople, in that of spreading the news as to who you are and what great things you do.

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Eric Abraham November 26, 2011 at 8:09 am

I have usually let the work sell itself – with a small push from myself. I have always engaged the potential purchaser in conversation about the work, the studio (it is quite visible from the gallery area), my life – anything to keep them interested. If and when interest flags, I let it go – they are not interested anyway. If they are interested, they usually surprise me by saying: “I’ll take this.” Sometimes if they are vacillating between two pieces, I will offer a ten percent discount for both – usually works. This summer I have had sold three thousand dollar pieces by letting the work sell itself. I don’t like high pressure sales and I believe it alienates the customer – it sure does me! And at art fairs the same applies. The work has to sell itself – but I am chatty, cheerful and attentive to everyone, even the “be-backs”. Most people there are there for “entertainment” – and again, if they like the work, they will buy. Mostly small things sell at fairs – and it is fairly unpredictable who will buy what!

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Christy MacKellar November 26, 2011 at 8:30 am

I believe that if you express your love and passion for something, people see that and they will start looking at your art as something they want to be connected too! One reason I draw is the love of it and the other is the inspiring that we can pass on to the person who purchase the work. I would start my saying I would be honored to have you as a friend own a one of a kind piece of my artwork. Touching other peoples lives is what we do. Open your heart and the rest will follow! BELIEVE!

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Jude November 26, 2011 at 8:36 am

Brilliant Theresa & Amanda Jones. Having a price list posted in your studio in a prominent place, or price tags on the artwork sends a subtle message to friends or new friends that the work is for sale, and doesn’t embarrass them if your price point is more than they can afford. How about after asking them if here is one in particular they like and send them a note card of the image and an invite to your next show?

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Wanda November 26, 2011 at 8:42 am

I never invite a friend over to simply view the studio. If I’m inviting a “friend” over, it’s for a very casual social setting. If you go through the studio, it is because they will ask. At that point, it has become “their” idea…and they feel no pressure. An actual friend knows that your work is for sale and will ask about a piece if they are interested. If a person is a very new friend, there is always the ability to have your prices on your peices or maybe even a whimsical style sign saying “all the art is for sale…much as I love them, I can’t keep them all”. You can also suggest that they spread the word about your art if they know anyone who may enjoy your style.

Viewing someone’s studio doesn’t mean you’re actually going to love the work. As an artist, I’ve been to others studios as well, and sometimes I find that I love nothing there, but I’m of course going to be polite and pay a compliment or two. I’d feel totally put on the spot if that caused the artist to try to sell me the work.

Soo…in short, I’d have it obvious that things are for sale, but I’m not going to try to “make a sale”. That’s how I’d treat a customer….not a friend.

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Claudia Stewart November 26, 2011 at 9:34 am

I haven’t had an “open studio” event yet, but when friends come to my home, I show them my latest works. If they seem interested and linger over a piece I go into an explanation of how it was made, if it’s part of a series, etc. I don’t usually “close” there, but I always give them my card with the website address (and my phone number; tough they know that) and tell them, “if you want to keep peeking at it, go to the website. If you like it, pick up the phone and give me a call and I’ll put a “sold” sign on it.” I’ve made several sales that way.

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Donna Godlove November 26, 2011 at 9:40 am

I am very new on the art scene. I have listened to what gallery owners have had to say: What Museum curators had to say: What other artists have had to say: And what art instructors have to say. All in all it’s been wonderful information. Sometimes information overload. The best teacher I think, is to go to every art sale and tour possible. Talk to the artists. Engage them and see what happens. It help you to realize how, and how not, to talk about your own artwork. I’ve only been painting with pastels for just about a year now. I’ve entered many contests and shows in the past year. Each one entered makes the next entry eaisier. I have been recently in an Art Sale and Tour that was outstanding. Not for sales but the experience was such that I could have not have learned more about what is needed to make the sale, create a potential patron list. How to talk to potential patrons. And above all, how much work is involved in preparation. There is so much more to the art we do than creating it. Enter! Do it, do it, do it! No matter the outcome. Nothing is wasted. The experience is gold. Thanks to Xanadu for all of your help. I appreciate it. I don’t think I’d have had to courage to push forward without it.

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Kristin Krimmel November 26, 2011 at 10:25 am

Many good suggestions here. Thanks everyone!
I think of Art Studio Tours and visits to my gallery as advertising rather than sales opportunities. Though it’s obvious that the paintings are for sale, I don’t talk about that until someone asks. The prices are mounted beside the paintings. I’ve learned to set out less to see than more.
I do offer to let the more interested ones to browse my art storage after I’ve told them how to handle the pieces, and then I check on them from time to time. Sometimes it takes them a few visits before they come back for a sale; but the seed was sown at the first meeting – relaxed and friendly like a open house party. Mostly they are quite amazed at my accumulation of work and they bring people back with them to see it.

I invite them to come back at any time “I’d be happy to make you a cup of tea or coffee and let you browse to your content. Just call before you want to come.”
I get sales from people who came a year before and remember something that stuck in their mind that they had to have.
For anyone who has made a big purchase, I have a stock of small framed sketches 8×10 inches or smaller, and I will give them the choice of one as a bonus.
That being said, I too would like to be much better at turning a conversation of interest into a sale.
I’m always amazed at people who talk up their work by discussing the number of layers of paint they have use or the number of hours or months it took to execute the painting. For me, that’s not the point of the painting. However, people are interested in the process, so it doesn’t hurt to describe how one works. The more patrons know about the work, the more engaged they become.
This is my first visit to the blog. It’s a good forum. Thank you.

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Dee Durkee November 26, 2011 at 10:29 am

I moved from a midwest town (population over 200K) to a rural Arizona town (10K) Although known to be “animated by the arts,” marketing visual arts has been very different in Arizona, and of course, the art buying world has changed in the past few years– as have all purchase decisions. As a fiber sculpture artist, it is tough enough to assure folks that the work is art (rather than craft). I have participated in a local arts organization Open Studios where folks come from out of town and will occasionally buy a major piece. And held my own Holiday Open Studios where less expensive items seem to be favored. I found that naming an event Open Studios and Sale tells folks right off that this is an educational experience as well as a chance to purchase if interested. I do make an effort to have anyone interested sign my Guest Book with e-mail so that I can notify them of future exhibitions and sales.

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Norman Nelson November 26, 2011 at 10:41 am

My good friend is a food salesman and he simply closed the deal for me while an interested buyer stood by my work. He introduced himself, talked about me
and the abstract colors, etc, finally he simply said, “you should own it” She bought
the work at an outside fundraising show. I love to talk about the work but it is hard
to just him em with the price, for a salesmen that is easy. Bottomline I’m learning is
you gotta at least show and tell,.

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johanna spinks November 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

I recently put a very obvious price list sign on my studio wall which helps people know almost everything is for sale. Paintings (of four different price points) have different color dots by them to match pricing on sign. Before that, people weren’t sure. I also encourage people I know to take a painting home for a few days to see if it feels right, no pressure. I learned this from a gallery in Malibu who did it all the time with her clients. I will also ‘hold’ paintings for clients, placing a red dot on painting in front of them, to give them time to think.

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Frederick R. HUBICKI November 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

Marketing our work – why should it be so “scarey”.
If you walk into a shoe store, you know the shoes are for sale. Some stores have prices on the shoes and some don’t, but all are for sale; so why is it any different in our studios. People do know and expect this when they visit your place of work. I think it is our atitude about sales, and not the prospects. Reading all these comments indicates how afraid we are to suggest our work is for sale. It’s commerce folks – pure and simple – and it’s honest and clean to ask to be paid for your efforts, just like the shoemaker, doctor, lawyer, butcher or you name it.

Depending on the situation, I find that humor can often help in reminding prospects that the work is for sale, that it is a one of a kind piece, and if it moves them they will be stired by it often in their home for years to come.

Prospects – they are all prospects – some more qualified than others; and there is where the marketing work comes in.

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jack balas November 26, 2011 at 11:40 am

I like the no-pressure but laughing acknowledgment at a certain point that just in case they’re interested, everything is for sale. I might ask “you did bring your checkbook, right?” And even when I give an artist talk, I’ll mention that so much of this work is still for sale. Even if you just get only laughs, I have postcards available with my website info and an image, and they will know I’m approachable.
It has happened, though, that a stranger may have seen my work through one of my galleries and calls to ask if a studio visit is possible. When I’m not set up to show a lot of work to someone whose interests are unclear, and I wind up spending inordinate amounts of time digging things out and (especially) unwrapping and re-wrapping, I’ve thought maybe I’d want to start asking for a “visit fee” — let’s say $50 or $100 — which is deductible from any sale coming out of the visit. That way they would know my time is valuable, but also that the works shown are clearly for sale.

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Linda November 26, 2011 at 11:44 am

I am an artist.
I personally would never push, even a little bit, with a “friend” to buy a painting. It could make the friendship very awkward.
Just someone walking into your gallery is a different story.

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George V. Miller November 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Reading the comments of fellow artist, I thought I might add a wise word from an old friend of mine. His advise was “paint for yourself” and I never forgot it. If others show interest in my work, all the better but I never hang on with hopes of a good sale. The photo studio I use to reproduce giclees did send an interested party to me as they were in wanting a commissioned piece. Having gone down this road before I requested an interview at my studio first and we would talk. They arrived on time and never looked at a single piece on my walls…..to me a dead give-a-way. I looked at the photo of a religious painting (very famous) and said ‘you can purchase a print or copy on line very cheaply’. “we want an actual painting…..48×60 inches” I could not talk them out of it as I knew this was way over their heads. I asked to visit their home to see just where this painting was to be shown. The home was fine and in good taste but their collection so far was poor. In brief I quoted $25000. and explained the long hours of work. They were in shock and asked just why was it so costly. I replied as I looked out the window, ‘how much did you pay for that car in your driveway or the new kitchen counter tops, or anything else in your home? I work just as hard at my profession as anyone else’. Each painting takes me 3 months of work and the response has been uplifting but I don’t place hope in it. Enjoy your gift to create.

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Jenny Hunter Groat November 26, 2011 at 1:13 pm

The question AND all these suggestions are very helpful. THANKS to everyone!
Jenny

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Joan Crawford Barnes November 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm

When I have a showing in my Studio, I invite my friends and clients. My friends are interested in what’s new, and I would not pressure any of them, but if I see they are interested in a particular painting, I offer to let them take it home for a week or so to see if they really love it! I really don’t want them to buy anything they would regret later. I personally wouldn’t buy anything from a friend that I wasn’t in love with or couldn’t live without! If they love it – they will buy it!

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Elf Evans November 26, 2011 at 2:06 pm

If the work(s) are not under contract to a galley, then you might use the tack of saying, “when pieces are available through your studio they are usually reduced in price, and should they want to be included in your next showing or mailing, take their information”. Either way you have made them aware of possible price variations, and future exhibition opportunities.

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Julie Weaverling November 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I tend to take a direct approach while also using a bit of humor….if they look or say something indicating they are interested, I say, “would you like to buy it?”or, “you know, I won’t stop you I you want to buy it!”. It’s all in the tone of voice…ask the question, because if you don’t it won’t happen! But use a light tone when asking so it might seem as if you are kidding. This lets them get out of it gracefully if they aren’t interested. You would be surprised how many times they will say YES if you just ask!

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James Lane November 26, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I have a certain technique that works every time. Arrange to have my daughter there.
She explains how great my painting are, and how talented I am and how much sense it makes to make a purchase – something they will never regret. It works because she means it and she is a hell- of-a-salesperson!

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Mathilde November 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm

As the responses show; each situation is different. Foremost when representing our work, we artist have to somehow to align with our work .

Luckily most art works match with the artist way of being. This makes it for the art viewer / visitor easier to understand the works. But also to understand the way the artist approaches business. Some artist may be bold and shout never ever to sell any works ever ever again and yet a minute later mention the price and ask directly if they are interested. While another artist may better try stay in all the etiquette lines pouring tea and serving biscuits while work is gently presented.

And do we really always need to pursue a sale? No of course not, but if the person is interested , mentioning exhibitions in galleries is a sign of being open to commerce. In this context the word gallery is a short for ‘this artist is professional active and sort of knows how commerce goes’. That puts the ball on the field. Who is going to give the next kick depends on your style of work and lets not forget the visitor him /her self.

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Pam McKinnon November 26, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I have sold over a 1000 original paintings.
The paintings in my home always have a price in the bottom left hand corner.
That way people know they are for sale and ask if they wish to purchase one.
No awkward moments needed. I’ve even sold to a travelling salesman who came to the door to sell me something.

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Doris Swanson November 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm

If I know the person who is touring my studio and they express an interest in a painting or paintings, I let them hang the paintings in their home, without obligation, and return them if they do not “work”. To assure them that I am not being pushy, I explain that I understand how art must fit in a particular setting, and be loved by the collector. Sometimes the collector returns the paintings, but I have sold three paintings by letting patrons take them home. If they refuse my offer I know they are just looking. Just looking is good. They may be back to buy or look again. I think making an offer to try the painting in their home puts them at ease and does not sound like a sales pitch. Assuring them that they have no obligation to buy is good as well. The painting will sell itself.

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Udaysree November 26, 2011 at 10:46 pm

great information here, love it! in the few sales i made so far it has been best to show my artwork and then to keep quiet. this has worked for online sales and sales made in person. important is to keep in touch with collectors in a non-pushy way.

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Carla Stein November 26, 2011 at 10:46 pm

The initial questions about how to negotiate possible sales with a friend or potential friend is in my experience quite different than talking to someone who has come to an exhibition or even an open studio. The potential friend is seeing your art as part of the process of getting to know you — the fact that you are an artist is a bonus. I make a habit of pointing out my work when I have visitors to my home/studio. I don’t mention price and don’t suggest they consider a purchase unless they bring up the subject. My latest sale was to someone I know who had visited my home a number of times, often inquiring about the price of certain paintings. She eventually purchased one at my last show. I never pushed her to make a purchase, but looking back it seems she had already decided she was going to and was just waiting for the the right painting.

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floyd smith November 27, 2011 at 12:25 am

I liked your response Mr Jason, but was a little discourage on some of the comments you got from certain artist that to me seem like skepticism was the norm, and positive thinking was old fashion. Where did this come from? I think that there are more
people in this big bad world that have never met a real life artist, then those that have.
I’ve sold some of my works just by saying that I’m an artist, and some how this sparks
an interest. They want to know more. Sure they want to know about art, but they also want to know the real person behind the artist. The path to a sale is not just showing or talking about how it was painted, But where did the idea come from? And also ask this question of them. Have you ever had an idea or thought of painting you would like to have done. Not so much about the art in your home or gallery that’s for sale, but maybe an idea of a new painting they’ve wanted done, a so-called wish list. Something your customer has thought off, but were afraid to ask. I’ve found that they start talking and opening-up, you can’t get them to stop. By this, you also get to know more about your customer by talking less about yourself, and your already halfway there to a sale. Why do you think car sales- men sell so many cars?
“Just a thought.”

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LynaLou Nordstrom November 27, 2011 at 12:38 am

This was a great question to investigate! Humor seems to be one of the best assets in working with this situation. Also, if prices are apparent, then no one has to embarrassed about asking. I disagree with Elf Evans… one should not undersell your gallery! It creates a bad relationship with your gallery! Offering a person an opportunity to live with the art for a few days or so seems like a really good way of letting someone figure out if they really want it.

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Lavonne Russell November 27, 2011 at 3:05 am

I’m thinking along the lines of logistics… I never use my checkbook – don’t even bring it with me. Debit card for everything… so now that it is possible to take cards with an app on your phone… it might be good to make that info known to customers. The thought of going off to find an ATM and coming back could lose the sale. Make it convenient for them to buy.

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Gloria Callahan November 27, 2011 at 5:38 am

I’ve enjoyed all of the comments here and agree that undercutting your gallery is a big no – no, but if you have been working a while you will offer your newest works to your gallery and there will be older works that may have missed their prime season. Or are simply not a subject matter you galleries are looking for. I think then a lesser sale price is OK. Or mark it in your studio as works not available from galleries but as part of your studio open house show and sale.

As I plan my first open studio event for this coming spring I wonder if there is a better time of year to have and open studio event. I know the holidays are popular but they are a very overly busy time for most people to get to or plan for. I’m wondering a others have suggestions for timing?

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MB November 27, 2011 at 6:24 am

Well, I am the one who asked the questions and I am thrilled with all these responses to it. Many seem right on target , while others are not quite addressing my question. I have a working studio that is completely separate from my home in a building that is all artists. When someone is visiting, separate from a scheduled visit to see art for purchase or an Open Studio event, it is as I said in my original question just another part of the “getting-to-know-me” process.
I sell my paintings on my own from my studio all the time. This is actually the main way I earn my income. I do believe every single relationship is a possible sales opportunity. I am not pushy. I have many great friends and I have a healthy list of collectors. But since selling my paintings is so important to me and I am the main person who promotes and exposes my work (even by also finding the galleries that will show and sell it) I have to look at every experience as at least a laying of the ground work for a possible sale. The majority of my collectors are friends and the strangers who have bought have become friends. It is all part of it.
The comments here have been just great. In reading through all of them, there is enough valuable information that I can glean what I believe will work for me to continue having the luxury of working at what I love, painting as well as actually making a viable living from it. And, all while I have the wonderful good fortune to have a career where I get to meet and know so many wonderful people and they me!
So Thanks!

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Marsha Hamby Savage November 27, 2011 at 6:32 am

This was a wonderful read. All the different approaches to selling in ones own home / studio. Friendship is the key element in my opinion … the question was about a new friend. I always show people my studio and my downstairs den is my gallery. They love looking at all the work, talking about what I do and how I work, and will usually tell me which pieces they like the most. I agree with a couple of the comments that “humor” is sometimes the best way to approach a new friend, even an older friend that is seeing new work. I usually have a price list, and a few of the works have prices next to them. I will tell them when they say they like that one or this one, “You know, you can take that one home with you today if you want it.” That opens the door to any discussion about price, payment, purchase, etc. If they act like they aren’t really in a purchasing mood, then I don’t push. Later, before they leave, I will usually tell them, “If you decide you want to purchase any of those pieces you liked, just let me know and we’ll work it out. And, you know you can take it home on approval at any time. But, do remember it might be going to a show or a gallery, so if you really like it, don’t let it get away.” I like a soft sell when it comes to my friends. And, another thought regarding one comment above, I tell anyone who is in my studio that my prices are the same as the gallery and I do not undercut my galleries.

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ted November 27, 2011 at 7:17 am

I always just look at them and say: l’m not too good at this sales stuff, but would u like to but would u like to buy it?

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Patton Hunter November 27, 2011 at 7:47 am

Jason’s suggestion still sounds a bit “pushy” to me. I live and work in the same space and the walls are my private gallery. I offer people a tour of my space because it’s a bit unusual as a living space and they always want to see it. During the walk-through, they are always looking at the art and I explain to them that I bought my double loft specifically to use as my gallery and studio and I invited people in for events or visits in order to sell my work. That tells them that I am willing to sell to them at any time, not just during and event. If they want to pursue, they will. If not, they are not on the spot but know they are welcome to come back at any time. My sales have increased dramatically since moving into my workspace.

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Sharyn Dimmick November 27, 2011 at 8:21 am

Jason, your “soft close” would horrify me and have me run out of there. As a customer, I know when I want to buy something and I will let the artist know when I want to buy it — if I don’t indicate that I want to buy something I am not ready to buy it. I agree with the people who suggest posting prices on the paintings in the corner — you can always offer someone a discount if you want to (because they are your first sale, latest sale, because you admire their taste, because they are buying more than one work). The reader who puts prices on paintings in his home is brilliant — I’m going to hang a few things at my next party and see how that goes.

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ted November 27, 2011 at 8:34 am

I use this soft selling technique that i read about in a book and now have used it hundreds of times. It works very well because it moves the conversation forward and brings out their true objection. I look at them and say in a humble voice: “Sorry, I’m not too good at this sales stuff, but would you like to buy anything?”

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Helen Shale November 27, 2011 at 10:18 am

Having “a new friend” to the studio is a perfect opportunity to talk about the spirit behind the work as Floyd has mentioned above. If they like a particular work I talk to them about why I painted it and what’s special about it to me. After all, they are in an artist’s studio and that’s probably why they’re there – trying to understand the creative process and learn more about the intent behind my work. Each piece then builds in value in his/her eyes, makes them feel good because they’re learning something new and leads naturally on to talking about a purchase. Prices on display helps and I love Maurade and her husband’s approach of having work in progress. I have also found people absolutely fascinated by getting a glimpse into the process.

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Tori November 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

Most all of the walls in my home are covered ‘salon style’ with my artwork. Each piece is tagged with the name the media and the price. It is a visual statement that all is for sale … I never have to say a word. So, friend or stranger alike, everyone is free to take their browsing to the next level of inquiring about a purchase. This works very well for my personality. I love to talk about my art and my process, but will not do so unless and until I am asked.

I do not undersell my galleries. They spend a great deal of time, money and effort promoting me and my work, lending value and prestige as well as building my reputation as an artist. It is not just about an individual sale, it is about the whole structure created by the relationship; that structure creates sales – whether in my home or in the gallery.

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Véronique Grolleau November 27, 2011 at 10:57 am

As you taught us Jason, in your book “Starving to Successful” and Webinars, I made a Portfolio according to your instructions plus, I added a little poetry regarding each piece. I made one to present to Galleries with 20 images or so, and an other one that I present to collectors and friends with more images. When they come to my studio, I like for them to read the writing inspiration for each piece so they can feel more connected to my work and the price is next to it.

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Roseann T. Kriebel November 27, 2011 at 11:11 am

I love being a new member of this community. Thank you, Xanadu Gallery!
A few months ago, I was the featured artist at a studio during a gallery hop. The son of the hostess (a friend) kept coming back to admire a pair of textile vessels, and finally commented that his mom should buy them for him. It turns out his birthday was a few days off, but the hostess said she was not able to pay immediately. We set up a loose payment schedule, of which one third has been paid and I’m still waiting for the remainder. In other words, I’m not sure if I want to repeat this experience again…

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Katrina J. Murray November 27, 2011 at 11:17 am

I have sold works to friends before but they usually ask me straight out about a certain piece. When I have social gatherings at my home/studio everyone wants to see the latest. I don’t work my friends for a purchase but they know this is what I do for a living. I often randomly place work around my home so I can look at the pieces I currently like most. One friend gravitated toward a piece in my dinning room and was so taken by it she asked the price immediately. I did give her a special price but I certainly didn’t give it away. This friend had suffered a fire in her home. The painting she bought was a large waterfall painting. She was unsure of spending so much money without her husband seeing the piece. I gave her the option to take it home, live with it for 30 days and send me a check if she wanted to keep it. Otherwise I would be happy to pick it up. She sent a thank you card with a lovely note and a check.

My story is the same to everyone who buys my work. Please don’t regret the purchase of my work. If you don’t think you’ll love it a year from now or 10 years from now don’t buy it. I do sometimes offer to buy the work back–minus a monthly rental fee. As yet there has not been a need for a buy back. I have found that buying and selling art is emotional work between the artist and client.

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Phyllis deQuevedo November 27, 2011 at 11:46 am

This is such a good question. I’m sensitive to being too pushy. Years of outdoor shows taught me that a tall chair to place me at eye level was better than getting up from my chair; much less threatening. I’ve never sold a piece of work out of my home studio but I think I would approach it by asking them what they liked about the piece. Whether it is the style of art or the colors. If they respond affirmatively, I’d ask them whether they could envision a piece something like this in their home. This conversation could open up an area of topic about their taste and style or it might lead them to start imagining it in their home and if not it now, in time it might lead to a sale.

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Shari Carlson November 27, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Great suggestions. I’ve found myself in the same situation and have not always used the right approach. Thanks!

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Karl Bronk November 27, 2011 at 1:54 pm

The way I interpret this kind of situation is to put myself in the shoes of my new acquaintance or “friend”. They may be asking themselves two questions: “Yikes! I hope he doesn’t broach the subject of purchasing his/her paintings.” Mostly because they aren’t ready to purchase, thus making a casual show and tell into an awkward sales pitch. The line offered as a suggestion in the original response, “…it would be the easiest thing in the world to make it yours.” If that doesn’t sound like a slick sales line, nothing does. I think a more natural response between the two would be, “If you’re interested in buying a piece, normally I sell my work through a gallery for at least 40% more than through private sale like this one. And since you’re friend, I can offer it for $XXX. But, if you aren’t ready today that’s okay too.” Then switch the subject to put your friend at ease! I find that friends and acquaintances are often more interested in prices out of idle curiosity. And when I start quoting prices, they know quickly if they can afford to buy or not. But if they offer even a slight interest to purchase, then it’s best, I think, to enter the stream of money slowly and gingerly, like saddle breaking a wild horse.

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Toni Starr November 27, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I just tell people everything you see is for sale. If you see something that you like, just let me know, and then just forget about it and have your visit together. If they ever decide to purchase art, they’ll remember the good time you had together, and the work they saw at the studio.

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Susan Rogers November 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I am an artist and my studio is in my basement. I have not had an open studio/sale but my husband and I may be purchasing a new home soon, so the thought of a sale is sounding like a great idea. Most of my walls in my home have artwork by other artists that I have either purchased or bartered for. My artwork hangs at a local gallery and when I participate in fine art fairs I take it on the road, (usually not to far from home!) Being a salesperson does not come easily but I am working on my self confidence and believe that my pastel paintings are as good or better than most of the work I see in galleries, etc. I have your book Starving to Successful and have made small steps. Most of my friends are artists too! Enjoy learning and hearing how other artists are getting their work out there. Thanks.

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Jonathan November 28, 2011 at 1:20 am

All great ideas to selling and moving original works of art, and all have worked for me. Thank you.

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Susan McDonald November 28, 2011 at 7:26 am

What kind of prices are we discussing here? Are we in the range of $1000, $2000, $5000? Most of my friends don’t have a lot of money, so suggesting a $2000 sale would be awkward. I actually prefer talking about the art with a friend and then suggesting either an open studio date or a gallery. I haven’t had good luck over the years with friends who want to buy on time. When they can’t find the money, I either take back the art and damage the friendship, or sacrifice the payment.

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Susan Cohen Thompson November 28, 2011 at 9:14 am

My studio is in my home and our entryway is a gallery of my paintings and ceramic pieces. We have a large annual open studio yearly and smaller groups and individuals throughout the year. Everything is priced during the open studio and I am thinking of maintaining prices on the art in the entry year round. I love showing my work and talking about it with people. Every guest is different. I learn the most about my guests and interesting perspectives of my work when I offer people the opportunity to talk about paintings they are attracted to. People have to bond with a piece of art before they decide to make it part of there home.

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Susan Cohen Thompson November 28, 2011 at 9:18 am

People have to bond with a piece of art before they decide to make it part of there home. Every guest is different. I learn the most about my guests and interesting perspectives of my work when I offer people the opportunity to talk about paintings they are attracted to. We have a large annual open studio yearly and smaller groups and individuals throughout the year. Everything is priced during the open studio.

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DJ Geribo November 28, 2011 at 4:21 pm

This is perfect timing for me – I’m having a couple of women, whom I’ve never met, come to my studio tomorrow morning to take a private art lesson from me. I know they could also be potential clients and so I have arranged my artwork that is available for purchase in an area of my studio. I know they will be interested in seeing my work since they are new students for me. I plan on casually mentioning that they are all available for purchase, also. I will also have my computer on with my website up so they can see additional work of mine that is not sitting out in my studio. I will not spend a lot of time gushing over my artwork but will let them come to a decision about whether or not they are interested in purchasing. I think that really is all you need to do. Inform without being pushy. Then the ball is in their court.

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Phyllis December 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I have been painting, teaching, mentoring, lecturing studying for 35 years and now I am in a retirement area. I have a large beautiful new studio where I plan to teach and sell. People are financially comfortable here but they have been there, done that in collecting. I am high profile and have a broad and good reputation as an artist in the community and have my share of exposure in the media. I myself lost my husband recently and now I know the thinking process of this age group.
How do you appeal to retirees and people who are winding down but who absolutely love my paintings and can afford them. How can I encourage them to adopt a painting exchange for $………..

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Rick Wilson December 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm

From a representational artist’s perspective, I’ve found the first thing is to assess the client by asking them what it is that draws them to a particular piece. It may evoke a nostalgic memory of an event or place in their life which gives you an opportunity to expand on the conversation. Allow the client ample time to talk about themself and be genuine in your interest. Many times, the client will talk themselves into a sale simply by talking about their experiences and knowing you are genuinely interested in their story. As the story winds down, you may even want to add something like “…wow, it’s almost as if I painted this just for you” or something along that line, to reinforce the emotional connection between the client and painting. Art is about emotions and our goal is to help the client feel a deeper connection to a piece they already show interest in. This is true regardless of it being a friend, repeat client or someone walking in to your studio for the first time.

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Mary Ellen Salo January 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

I read your answer and all the comments so far. When an artist has a relationship with a gallery, undercutting their prices for the art is unethical, although categorizing it in some way, such as small pieces versus larger work and different media for different galleries might be a way to approach this problem. I have sold art to friends by inviting them to my various art shows, but I never asked for the sale, because their friendship was something precious I didn’t want to lose. A new friend may not be one who is interested in, has space for, or the budget for more than a look at your art, as in an art museum or gallery. Implying that this is a new friend means you truly don’t know.
So in other words, I do believe artists should price their work as it is finished, as Jason, you recommend, price it by size or complexity if it has one or more figures in it, and in such a way that they do not lose money on each sale. Art Tracker and your book From “Starving” to Successful, have good ideas in them as do many comments. Having someone else recommend you, or work for you, as gallery owners do, is how they earn their commission. When I am making my living selling my art after I do all that, I’ll get back to you!

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Anne Bevan March 9, 2012 at 4:36 am

Thank you Jason,
I really appreciate your insights into this important issue. Funny how much anxiety arises until one is totally comfortable with the concept. I think so much depends on your mindset, before a word is spoken.
And, thank you everyone who has responded – I have really enjoyed reading your experiences and clicking through to see your websites and blogs.

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Desley Rolph September 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm

This can be a really tough scenario and avoid the selling part of my practice as I hate it as I would be a soft touch. I am a represented artist with 3 galleries. On my website front page, it clearly states “all sales through my galleries only” so I don’t get the general public asking me to see work in my studio, but rather where they can view a particular work and I then direct to that particular gallery. My friends know generally the pricing on my work and most cannot afford it. However if a painting has done its rounds at the galleries and comes back to me, I either store it in my shelving system or I hang it on my own walls. If they happen to like a particular piece I tell them that if they really liked it I could do a very special price for them rather than see it sit in storage and miss out on a life on someone’s walls. If they show interest in a new piece, I simply say it is on it’s way to a particular gallery or am holding it over for competition. I make it a policy not to sell new works out of my studio outside of the gallery situation as I respect the work that they do. I don’t see a conflict on selling older pieces returned to me to friends at special prices, but not new work because I have to make a living and don’t discount new work.

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