How to Sell in Art Markets (5 Quick Wins)

Sell at art markets. Family browsing at my market stall in Brighton

Today I’m going to teach you how to sell in art markets. 5 quick selling tips to help you make more sales and more money.

It’s a myth that art sells itself, it doesn’t. You have to learn to sell and that requires practice and the best way to sell anything is to sell yourself. If people like you they will like your art. It’s that basic.

Being affable and approachable is essential but it’s your sales skills that make the difference. Do you want a hobby or run a business? The latter right

With that in mind let’s get you started with the tactics I use every working day.

How to build a bargain and sell more art

We all love a bargain, right? I know I do.

It’s in our nature to want more for less. and to increase your profit you have to pander to that need.

Further Reading: How to Bargain Like a Pro

I didn’t learn this from an artist, I learned this from a market trader who’d been trading all his life.

He sold socks and boxer shorts from a 6ft (2m) trestle table and made enough money to buy a 2nd home. I know that’s true because I was one of his tenants.

To put it bluntly, there was nothing arty-farty about Dick!

I, on the other hand, was selling very little and he advised me to change my tactics.

Now when you see your neighbor raking in cash, you listen.

He got straight to the point,

“People are greedy and they look for a bargain”

At the time I was selling my prints for a tenner each because everyone told me that’s what they were worth. Everyone that is, except Dick.

Dick told me to sell them for a fiver each, sell two for £8 and 3 for £10 and I’d make more money.

Well, as I was making next to nothing, I balked at halving my prices. How was that going to work?

He explained further. ‘You’ll find most people will not be able to resist getting another print for only £3 and a third for only £2. You’ll still get your tenner.’

I’m talking about the ‘90s when things were considerably cheaper than they are today but even so, I had also taken a stupid risk. I’d gambled on buying 12000 prints to get the unit price down to only 25 pence each.

I’d done no research, just a hunch, a wing, and a prayer.

I took Dick’s advice and what happened?

My sales shot up!

Instead of making an occasional sale, I made multiple sales and usually for the full amount.

I made less profit per print but I was making way more money.

Dick had saved the day!

That was one of the best tips I ever had and from an old school market trader.

I still use the formula today.

I would go on to learn sooo much more.

How to use scarcity to sell more art

Hide the cards, get rid of those flyers and whatever you do…

DON’T ADVERTISE YOUR WEBSITE!

It sounds crazy and totally counter-intuitive but these are all sales-killers.

I’ll tell you why.

The secret to more sales is SCARCITY. As the seller, you need to give the impression that it’s a stark choice, it’s NOW OR NEVER.

You cant do that if you advertise an opt-out!

People procrastinate. We all do, we try to find ways of putting off decisions.

And what happens?

They see your nice shiny new business cards with a neat sign saying ‘Please Take One’ and they are off in a shot.

But the sad truth is, most people who walk away will never come back.

If people have the opportunity to buy your product at the time of their choosing, they’ll take it, and they won’t be back.

Believe me, as soon as that card is taken its the same as a NO SALE.

Your prospect will walk away and forget you the moment they get distracted by something else.

Remember this, it’s important

‘The fear of loss has more impact than the promise of gain.’

It’s all about impulse and shortage, choose it or lose it.

It’s your job to capitalize on that insecurity and to tip the balance in favor of the sale. When it comes to impulse buys, a bird in the hand is REALLY worth more than two in the bush.

Don’t be dishonest but whatever you do, don’t encourage them to leave your stall.

So what do you do instead? and what if they ask you for a business card?

Easy, you reply by asking a simple question. Answer them like this:

‘Sure, what were you thinking?’

Now they are on the spot and they have to reveal their hand.

It might be a potential commission, a gift idea or the need to seek approval from a partner.

Whatever their answer turns out to be, it gives you permission to pursue the discussion.

Try to keep them at your stall. Whatever becomes of your chat, a busy stall attracts more customers. That’s always to your advantage.

Suggest they look at the prints before they leave.

‘It’s better to see them in real life, not just on the screen.’

If they have time, they will want a quick look. Now they have no obligation to buy and they begin to relax.

It’s then, as they browse, that you reveal your ace card.

‘I’ll just warn you that they do cost a bit more online and then there’s postage on top. It’s better and cheaper to get them here if you can’

Of course, this MUST be true.

It’s the browsing that creates the impulse. The fear of losing the cheaper deal, that’s the motivator.

If the customer is genuine you can often turn a simple request for a card or website address into a sale.

Have you learned something new? Let’s cover what to do when things are quiet.

How to get more art commissions 

You need some cash flow. Things are sooo slow. Your work isn’t selling as you hoped, so what do you do?

The answer is as simple as it is scary. You plonk yourself down, start drawing and you’ll get an instant audience.

The first time I set up, I felt like a kid on his first day at school.

But sitting there is not enough. You must engage with onlookers.

  • Have a work in progress,
  • Have a portfolio to hand,
  • Invite comments,
  • Have a comments book,
  • Say Hi,
  • Explain how you work.

Commissions are mostly going to be for people and pet portraits. That’s the obvious market but not the only one.

Small businesses might approach you too. You never know who will pass by.

People usually enquire with an idea of bringing you a photograph to copy.

Taking commissions at art markets Photo of a pet cat climbing down a tree.

“Excuse me, will you draw my cat?”

You must make it clear from the start what you can and cannot do.

Most people have no idea how long things take and the work involved. Some folk can have unreasonable expectations.

  • Make it clear how big the art will be, what style and how long it will take.
  • Make sure the reference photo is clear.
  • Show them examples of past work and commissions.
  • Show them testimonials in your comments book.
  • Give them a framed and unframed price.
  • Draw or paint to a standard size so you can buy a good ready-made frame.

You MUST be pro-active. Gaining commissions is all about the follow-up.

  • Get their details so you can send some more info.
  • Ring them that evening when they are home from work.
  • Ask to see the photo straight away and get them to email it to you?

When you get the green light ask for 10% upfront as a deposit. The commitment is important.

Further Reading: How do Artists Get Commissions Quickly?

Upon delivery push for the upsell. Suggest that others in the family would love a print for themselves.

Then what about notebooks, phone cases or in this case, a daypack?

Alternative ways to sell art - custom backpack using printful.com
Custom day-pack using printful.com

Print-on-demand sites now offer you the chance to make much more money from one piece of work.

Do you see the potential? One order can grow and grow.

Each image is its own advert. Don’t forget to add your website to each product.

Don’t neglect quality when it comes to printing.

Read reviews and chose a company with a good reputation. Printful.com is a popular choice.

When you get one commission there are often follow-on orders from friends and family.

And so it goes on.

This takes us neatly to upselling.

How to upsell your art prints for a bigger profit

Upselling is just a way of making more money out of the same sale.

A classic example would be to offer a mount/matt to go with a print or better still, selling a complete frame.

It can be hard to compose and constrain your art to a standard ratio but it’s worth your while if you can.

If you can make your art fit ready-made frames you can make a good profit.

It took me a long time to compromise my ‘artistic eye’ and bow to the obvious.

People are afraid of framing costs.

I’m now slowly recomposing my older artwork to conform to standard sizes by re-cropping the scans.

I’ve made templates of commonly available frames and mounts/mats. Feel free to use and bookmark them.

Another path I use is to upsell the value.

I have mainly open edition prints and the more you buy, the cheaper they become. That’s an upsell.

I also have a portfolio of limited edition prints always left open on a certain page which by sheer coincidence, just happens to be two of my most popular pictures.’

A customer at Kevin's market stall in Brighton
A happy customer at my market stall

These limited prints have no price displayed and that’s deliberate.

It gives me the chance to casually inform the prospect that these prints cost more than the others on display.

If I advertised the price it might discourage the price-conscious from looking at them in the first place.

People don’t buy what they don’t see but if you get in front of them, temptation kicks in.

I go on to explain that my limited editions are truly limited, and ‘Once they are gone, they are gone for good’.

Some people don’t understand or particularly care about limited editions, that’s fine, but many do and appreciate them more. They’re happy to pay the premium.

By talking up the difference between the open and limited prints you’re adding value.

Now having seen the one they want the price-sensitive might still waver at the cost.

It’s at that point you can offer a deal. 

This is the way I do it. I say something like this:

‘If you would like this print I can offer you a better deal.’

I gauge the response, most people are too curious to back away and have to ask me what I can do?

‘If you want his limited edition I will include an open edition for the same price, anyone you like, take your pick.’

This takes most people by surprise. In their eyes, I’m giving away £6.50 ($8) but in fact, I’m only losing the cost of the unlimited print. I usually clinch the deal.

There are those few who resist the freebie, and for them, I quickly change tack.

‘Would you rather have a discount? Ok, it’s yours for £15, it’s been a slow day.’

Of course, some people don’t need persuading at all.

In fact, there are people who leap at the chance to spend more money. Some people, (I’m not one of them!) don’t buy ‘cheap’.

Now let’s deal with one of the trickiest skills to get right.

How to break the ice without scaring people off.

So how do you engage with strangers without making them turn tail?

First of all, it takes practice to get it right. It’s not just what you say, its how you say it.

Your tone of voice matters, your body language, and your timing. They all count.

This comes with experience. I liken it to telling a favorite joke or anecdote. You refine it over time until you find the point where everything pulls together and it works seamlessly.

In your case, you notice someone passing your display, hesitate and look your way.

The trick is not to make it obvious that you are fully aware of the situation but of course, you are.

You’re waiting for them to step forward.

As this is happening you must busy yourself. Your aim is to create an air of ‘attentive indifference’

You must be ready when the moment seems right but not over eager. The key is to remain casual as if nothing in the world matters.

Some think eye contact is essential but that’s not my experience. You have to ‘read’ the customer first. Are they smiling and approachable or closed and defensive? It matters.

You must make an instant calculation and adjust your approach accordingly. Whatever the case, eye contact must be brief.

You acknowledge the person while at the same time withdrawing to give them space.

The point is only to break the silence.

For example.  Someone approaches your stand and you let them look. As their eyes wander you casually say something like,

‘There are more in the folders, here’

When I do this I tap the portfolio but I DON’T look at them directly. At the same time, I’ll step back and occupy myself with something else.

The ice is broken.

Pre-occupation is an important feature of selling softly. You must never pounce.

Be busy. You can be making art, cleaning, re-arranging, even reading your iPad as long as you appear distracted.

If you look as if you are occupied with something more important than the sale you will give the right impression.

Further Reading: How to Sell your Art if you are Introverted

Another example. Someone looks over your shoulder while you draw or paint. I always say ‘Hi’ but I don’t fully look around and I carry on working.

I’ve broken the ice and now they have the option of asking a question.

All questions are sales opportunities, both directly and indirectly.

The more people standing at your pitch, the more interest it generates, and this leads to more sales.

Brighton Market stall in Brighton on a busy summers day
My set up in Brighton

Sometimes I get onlookers who desperately want to look but are too shy to step closer.

I use the following tactic to get them to relax.

I say something like:

‘Come and have a look, you know you want to’ I usually get a smile in return. Then I say ‘You don’t have to buy today, I’ll give you my card.’

By offering an immediate opt-out the pressure is off. I go on to say,

‘Im always happy when people are looking, if you look, others will look. See if we can create an audience’

They usually go along with the conspiracy.

Be approachable. Don’t look sour or bored. Smile at people and return their smiles.

Ask open-ended questions.

As a wildlife artist, my usual line is:

‘What’s your favorite animal?’

If they have one its usually the obvious, like elephants, big cats, great apes and so on.

With their answer, I can show them my selection.

What if they answer your question with an unexpected reply? What if they answer ‘anteater’?

I pause and say ‘OK, what’s your 2nd favorite animal?’ I usually get a smile.

The ice is broken

Don’t say ‘Can I help you?’ or anything like it!

I have an ‘About the Artist’ centered in the middle of my display. It’s an excuse for another opening line. ‘Have you read my bio?’

I have a work in progress. It invites comments.

Any prop or curiosity works to break the ice. The more the merrier.

Conclusion

This post has shown you how to improve your sales with 5 actionable tips. Now you know how to sell in art markets more effectively.

At this point let me say one last thing, not all art fairs are made equal. Some are good and some are not. There is a learning curve and some trial and error involved.

I was lucky to find a great venue from the start and that proved to me that my art sells. Later, I tried a famous market in London and bombed!

The lesson learned? Don’t give up if you get off to a slow start. Your crowd is out there but they’re at another market. Find them, and use these tips. THEY WORK


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How to sell in art markets and fairs. 5 quick ways to sell more.  A photo of a family looking at an art display. For Pinterest.

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