Venues, Exposure, How to Sell Your Art – Part 2

In a previous entry, I discussed galleries, public venues, and charity auctions as potential sales channels for art. Now I’ll share my experiences with festivals and online websites.

4. Festivals and Events

By “festivals”, I mean art-themed events like art walks and organized open studio tours. These are, by far, the best opportunity for sales. Here is a comparison of my best and worst experiences.

My least successful event was a one night mega-gala featuring visual art, body painting, and a popular local entertainer at a large venue. Artists were juried by the promoter and then charged a $200 nonrefundable entry fee. Tickets to the event were $60. The artists were asked to sell tickets to their friends and customer base for a commission. The event was positioned as a fundraiser for an arts foundation that I didn’t recognize, but a brief internet search revealed that this foundation was run by the promoter.

No one in the media seemed to give the event much publicity. I decided against getting my own booth and participated in a group of people sharing a booth. None of our work sold, not even a $5 fridge magnet.

My most successful event was an open studio art crawl. It was well-advertised, it generated a media buzz, and it was free for the public to attend. Moreover, I was fortunate in that my work was featured on the poster used to advertise the event. I wasn’t credited due to a minor oversight so the organization doubled over backwards to make sure my name got out. One customer came in to buy a painting because she liked the poster but couldn’t find whose painting it was so she methodically went through the event’s list of several hundred participating artists to find me. All because of a poster. “It was alphabetical by last name. You were last,” she sighed. I know; story of my life.

I had quite a few people come to visit me because of the poster. It made me realize how effective a postering campaign is for local events. One price for poster printing and hanging in Vancouver is $250 for 500 posters. I would pay that.

One of the biggest art festivals in Vancouver is the East Side Culture Crawl. This is a three-day open studio event. Alas, I am unable to participate because my studio is considered outside the Crawl’s boundaries. Many artists consider this their biggest sales point all year; in fact, some artists work all year for the sales generated during this one weekend event. I used to think that was weird, but it’s not.

These events work because people like to come out and support local culture and they will go out of their way to meet artists in their studios. I liken it to a wine-tasting tour: has anyone ever visited a winery and sampled a glass that has been poured and described lovingly by the host, and then NOT purchased a bottle on the way out? Same principle applies in festivals: get visitors, talk about your work, and make a connection. I enjoy these events because no one has ever come to tell me they hate my work; it’s all about the love! :love:

It’s apparently forbidden to offer people wine or beer on many of these organized open studio things but everyone does it. For that matter, the sales seem to come easier with wine, though I wouldn’t recommend it as a sales tactic for, say, an automobile dealership.

Other festivals that may not be art-focused, like block parties and neighbourhood days, are worthwhile. I’ve attended a number of these as a community participant. I dislike the idea of renting/setting up/taking down a booth so I tag along with someone else who has one and offer by-donation face painting for kids. I’ll bring along some business cards and trinkets, like the mouse pads, coasters, and magnets one can purchase through dA’s prints service. I feel like I’m participating in my community as well as promoting my business.

Also consider timing: anything before Christmas is subject to the retail magic and desperation that surrounds the season. Make posters. Don’t forget the wine.

5. Online Websites and Communities

I’m positive about my experience on deviant Art: dA is the longest-running art community that I’ve ever participated in and I love it there. However, it is not terribly effective for me in terms of generating original painting sales. It’s great for prints, calendars, posters, and coasters, though. And friends, too. I’ve made lots of friends here. That being said, I don’t really consider this a site for sales or “exposure.” dA has always been for *me*, not my customers.

Online art galleries and art sales sites tend to be afflicted with the same thing: volume. There are SO MANY things to look at. This is when free will bumps up against commoditization. People looking for inexpensive art to brighten their walls or shelves might shop online but most seem to want to go to IKEA or some other discounty place where they can see what they’re buying and get a better sense of color and scale. Shipping is usually the deciding factor. If the shipping cost makes the product more expensive than what you can buy locally, then it’s almost always a lost sale.

There seem to be an awful lot of art sites out there. I’ve tried a handful of them. Fine Art America has good search engine placement and I have sold a couple pieces because of them but not directly through their interface. I have also tried other sites like Gallerish, Myartspace (now defunct), Artweb, and Paintings I Love but, man, the interfaces are often difficult and the effort to upload and catalogue your work can be tedious. I don’t even bother keeping my inventory up to date; I post things that are already sold.

The kind of art I create and my selling model – sell big but sell rarely – means I have more of a relationship business. I have a difficult time understanding how people would use these sites to buy big ($3000-plus) art. If I’m going to spend thousands of bucks on a piece of art, I want to meet the creator or go through a reputable gallery or agent. Then again, maybe there are people for whom $3000 is a mere pittance.

I’d love to meet them. Somehow, I doubt they are hanging around online art web sites.


1. Studio tour events where someone gets to meet you in your environment are ALWAYS good, so budget for them and go all out. If you can’t afford $, then volunteer. These events are almost always run by organizations that operate on grants and volunteer power, so let respect be your keyword.

2. Expos and fairs and festivals are worthwhile if the event has good media coverage and are easy* (*free) for the general public to attend. If your art fits the theme, do it.

3. Online venues are a good promotional supplement but return on investment is iffy unless the investment is free. If you’ve got time to spare, they are worth it. Because time is free, right?

4. And, lastly, don’t ever do anything for “exposure” unless you’re in control of that exposure. Your body of work deserves thought and respect. You wouldn’t take your clothes off for just anyone, so be careful about “exposure,” but once you’re exposed, flaunt it! That means promote the hell out of yourself, embrace the stage, and shake your stuff.

It’s not just the old real estate adage of “Location, Location, Location,” but rather “Promotion, Promotion, Promotion” that makes all the difference. If you haven’t got the means (time, money), then be selective and work with events that do. That’s an article for another day.