Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Selling art

2010 . 06 . 10 - Comments / Commentaires (2)

Early on in my career, I got some advice about the world of sales from a TV salesman. I was taking down Snow Days, my series of local television news personalities which I had exhibited in his show room, and we were chatting. I had just turned 23 and I was barely making a living selling my work. I was sure I could learn from his long experience. He revealed to me that the biggest mistake any salesperson can make is to forget to ask for the sale.

While he may be right when it comes to televisions, I can now say with absolute certainty that it doesn’t work that way for art.

Matt Zaffino portrait by Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel
Matt Zaffino (KGW)
acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 inches
(detail below)

Matt Zaffino

These days,* I never ask for the sale. I am friendly and I make sure that people know about what it is that I do. And that’s it.

To my mind, it’s for the buyer to take the final step of asking to make a purchase. And anything I might do will only get in the way. To illustrate:

I once showed at a non-profit venue where one of the gallery representatives believed in asking for the sale. After my artist’s talk, she approached audience members—many of them my clients and subjects—and made comments like “I’m sure that one would look great over your couch” and “wouldn’t you like to see how she would paint your portrait?” Each of the clients and subjects she spoke to came to me and reported her behavior, saying “this is exactly why I hate going to galleries.”

For most people, art is not a necessity. If they buy art, it is special, and it’s probably not a decision that they are making on the spur of the moment. To that end, there are two things artists can do in order to sell art more effectively:

  1. Be available for questions and make sure that the people know what it is you do. When I meet new people, I tell them that I’m a painter, but, unless they show an interest, I avoid talking more about my work. Small business owners and freelancers have a reputation for being pushy and desperate since the only way they make rent is by drumming up business. It’s off-putting and I don’t want to come across that way.
  2. Focus on getting third party sponsorships. Nothing will make a potential client want to buy art more than reading about an artist in the paper or seeing her-his work at an impressive venue or getting an earful from a friend who loves the artist’s work. Happy clients make most of my sales for me.


*I’ll come clean: I have asked for a sale, but only on a handful of special occasions.

- How to price art
- Making a living is like making a painting
- The middle class art market

CATEGORIES: - English - Business of art -

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(2) Comments / Commentaires: Selling art

-- Mckenna -- 2010 . 06 . 11 --

There is a HUGE difference between encouraging someone to purchase something they have connected with and just “asking for the sale” in the way that you described. 

Sales is a dance of emotional, invisible, strings of love and passion.  Art sales even more so.

If someone is standing in front of my work and gushing about how moved they are - I will ALWAYS “ask” for the sale, but more as a friend than a “salesperson”.  A gentle voice, perhaps even a small touch on their arm and a big smile with a loving statement of “facts” will make a HUGE difference in your career. 

SO… here’s a fact to share (sincerely)with your potential buyer when you next get the opportunity:

“I am so excited to share my work with you and I can see you are very moved by what I do.  I want you to deeply consider collecting my art as I really love knowing that someone who “gets it” - who gets what I am doing - will have my work to enjoy forever.  If I was your best friend, I would be wrong to not encourage you to own this piece today. What do you think?”

AND, as usual - you don’t say another word until they do.

THAT process - that REAL emotion - is showing love and respect and caring about the collector.  AND asking for the sale all at the same time.

It is wrong to deny someone an opportunity to own our work if they love it and can afford it.  You and all other artists know that your patrons LOVE having your work in their lives.  Don’t short change them by not “selling” to them.

Anyway… words to that affect said with a smile in your heart are worth trying.  With real love for your own work and a real love for the joy it will bring and a real love for anyone who takes time to explore your work with you - well, it’s hard to resist sharing and encouraging anyone to look up at a rainbow or see a great movie or read a great book.  It’s all about sharing the love.  Your enthusiasm for a great restaurant and the review you share should be the same feeling of love and sharing when someone views your art.


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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 06 . 11 --

You’re right: it is valuable to talk about your art with someone who appreciates it—both for you and for that person.  And it certainly would be a shame to not share lovely things like rainbows, good movies, and your art.  But that still doesn’t translate into asking a person to consider purchasing your work, even if you do it in a friendly manner. 

Sharing enjoyment doesn’t require money exchanging hands.  I love getting paid for what I do, but I also love getting feedback of the non-monetary variety.

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