Sell More Art – 9 Selling Skills For Artists (Are You Missing Sales?)

Sell more art header image. 3 fine art pencil drawings by Kevin Hayler

Good communication is at the heart of successful selling so it’s vital to get your message across in the clearest and most concise way possible. There are some skills every artist simply MUST know, and in this post, you’ll learn 9 selling skills for artists who want to sell more art.

Selling art is no different from other forms of retail, it’s fundamentally the same thing. As a working artist, you must tell a good story, be friendly, and engage. In other words, if people like you, they will like your art.

So how do you break down the barriers with strangers? Let’s go over the most important selling skills every artist must put into practice.

#1 Selling More Art Is All About Selling Yourself

In my experience, too many artists fall into one of two camps, those who undervalue themselves, and those who overvalue themselves.

Sell your Story. Make it Short and make it Snappy.

Both types find it hard to tell a good story. It’s very hard to sell yourself if all along you are wondering why anyone would ever want to buy your art in the first place. Similarly, no one wants to listen to a bragging big-head.

Further Reading: How to Spot an Art Buyer and Avoid Time-Wasters! (This is Gold)

As in most things in life, there’s a middle ground. Not too self-effacing and not too conceited.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to storytelling and never more so than in sales patter. In time, your tales will self-edit, your timing will improve, and your punch lines will deliver. 

The most effective stories are honed down to the bare minimum.

Think of your favorite anecdote, the one that’s been retold many times. It’s been tweaked and refined to the point where the storytelling is almost theater. That’s your aim.

Grabbing and keeping the publics’ attention is the key. There are so many distractions these days that you MUST deliver a concise and confident performance. If that damn phone goes off, you’ve lost them.

Be in no doubt that your purpose is not just to inform, it’s also to entertain, and in so doing you build the trust.

People buy off people they like. It’s that simple. 

#2 Stay on Point and Get Back to Selling More Art

If you are engaged with a delightful audience and enjoying yourself, it’s all too easy to forget why you are there in the first place.

I’ve lost so many sales over the years because I became so engrossed in what my ‘customer’ had to say that I forgot to sell them anything. 

I’m constantly having to remind myself to turn the conversation back around to the sale. I get to a point where I suddenly realize that we’ve strayed and I’ve lost the thread. It can be very hard to backtrack. 

Kevin Hayler holding up a print  Demonstrating selling skills for artists
Yours truly holding up a print for a customer

Then my heart sinks as I hear those departing WORDS OF DOOM,

‘It’s been nice to meet you’

Not only are you sad to end an interesting chat but you didn’t even sell a fridge magnet!

If I’m conscious of what’s happening, I can steer things back to my artwork before it’s too late. I can always return to our interesting chat later – THAT’S AFTER THE SALE.

#3 Sell More Art With Simple Language

Let’s cut to the chase, no one likes a smart aleck. Keep those syllables down to a minimum. Fancy talk gets you nowhere. Assume that everyone has only a working knowledge of English until they prove otherwise.

If you let slip a clever-sounding word, you may alienate your customer. If they don’t know what the word means, that’s bad communication. Long words and jargon intimidate people. 

I remember upsetting a customer many years ago when I worked in a tree nursery. I knew and described most of the trees by their Latin names and he stopped me short and complained that he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Of course not, I was speaking as a nurseryman and not as a customer. I lost that sale.

That was a lesson well learned. 

Perhaps the equivalent mistake for an artist is being too Arty-Farty. No one wants to hear about anyone’s inner battle for self-discovery, expressed through their art. Yuk. Believe me, the public will run a mile. 

There is nothing wrong with having some symbolism and metaphors hidden away but be very careful how you describe them and to whom.

Sell more art Example of a Framed Jaguar Drawing by Kevin Hayler.
‘Eye Contact’ by Kevin Hayler

The public appreciate straight forward craft-based realism. They buy something that speaks to them. What they don’t buy is the artist’s ego.

#4 Good Manners Equals Good Selling Skills and More Art Sales

It’s nothing more than the respect you show for others. Good manners cost nothing but bad manners can cost you money.

There is no excuse for not being courteous, polite, and aware of the needs of people around you. 

  • If you see someone hovering around, acknowledge them. 
  • If you have a queue apologize for keeping anyone waiting. 
  • Hold your tongue if someone irritates
  • When you complete a sale, shake hands.
  • Say please and thank you. 

Social graces are important. I don’t like to eat in front of customers. I NEVER have alcohol at work, I even take care not to serve with my left hand if someone is from Asia. 

Good selling skills are good social skills

It should go without saying that swearing is a NO-NO. Profanity is very unprofessional and makes you appear less trustworthy.

#5 Be Fluent, Speak Clearly, and Sell More Art

When you tell a story or crack a joke you can’t stutter on the punchline, it falls flat. To be effective the delivery has to be spot-on.

Effective communication requires a confident and self-assured use of language and for those of us without a natural gift-of-the-gab, we have to develop a store of ready-to-use stock phrases and quips to join everything up.

I like to think of it as ‘Contrived Spontaneity’

You must eliminate Ums, Ahs, and Hmms. Likewise, banish repetitive crutch words such as, ‘like’, ‘you know’ and ‘right’. These habitual verbal ticks will distract the listener and diminish your credibility.

Get a friend to tell you if you have any nervous habits, you may not have even noticed them. 

If you do tend to use filler words and sounds, try to replace them with reflective pauses instead. You’re not giving a speech so long pauses for dramatic effect will backfire. I’m talking about micro-pauses that break your sentences into bite-size chunks.

A few ‘Ums’ are OK but not when they are sprinkled throughout a sentence. You’ll bore people to death.

Speak in small bursts and not in monologs. Vary your intonations, emphasize certain words and phrases, and animate yourself with gestures.

Don’t talk over anyone and never ever contradict anyone.

No two encounters are quite the same, so a degree of flexibility is called for if you are to remain composed and unflustered in front of the public. You will learn to adjust your manner and adapt to every client’s personality. 

The trick is to slightly mirror your clients behavior. Don’t mimic anyone, but adjust to their ways.

#6 A Basic Selling Skill – Listen to Your Customers to Sell More Art

A good salesperson knows when to shut up. If someone is talking then listen to what they have to say. If they have a question, answer it directly and allow them to interject.

Further Reading: Build Rapport With Your Collectors and Sell More Art (Get This Right and the Rest Will Follow)

Listening is respectful. Give the customer your full attention and make eye contact. Whatever you do, don’t make it obvious that your mind is elsewhere. Don’t look around as they talk to you. Don’t fidget or God forbid look at your phone.

If my phone starts to ring, I ignore it. The person I am with, has priority. I can ring back later.

If I need to interrupt, I do so in a way that doesn’t offend. I will touch a forearm and say something like,

‘Sorry, can I interrupt you just for a second?’

I’ll deal with the distraction and quickly return,

‘Sorry about that. Where were we?’

I listen and wait for nuggets of information. You never know what people will say. Of course. I’m looking for common ground and naturally, I’m hoping it will lead to a sales opportunity.

Sell more art example Male orangutan drawing by Kevin Hayler
‘Enigmatic Ape’ by Kevin Hayler

A good listener will quickly establish a rapport with their customer. There are a lot of wind-bags out there and very few listeners. It’s a rare treat.

On that point there is a drawback to being a good listener and that’s getting trapped by someone who doesn’t stop yapping.

People who talk ‘at’ you and have no social awareness are not going to buy anything. After years of trading, the alarm bells start ringing when certain ‘types’ turn up. They will kill your sales. In such cases, you MUST take action.

I will always try the polite way first by rounding-off the ‘chat’,

  • Anyway, I can’t chat all day’
  • ‘I’d better crack-on, I’ve got work to do’
  • ‘Good to chat but I’ve got to break off’

Most of us know the rules, some, however, will carry on regardless or even wait around! There have been times when I have feined needing a washroom to escape! How sad is that?

If all else fails, there is one sure way of ending the conversation dead, try and sell them something! They’ll be gone in a cloud of dust.

#7 Ask Open-Ended Questions and Start a Conversation

If the art of conversation is to listen, the way you get things going is to ask questions. 

Given the chance, we all love talking about ourselves (Harvard Research), so ideally, you should facilitate that with a few open-ended questions.

Try to avoid questions that require only a static ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, they will whither on the vine. 

This is a sales situation so the browsing public may be alert to your intentions and be on their guard. That, however, is no reason for not trying. The real point is to break the ice even if the conversation doesn’t flow straight away.

Examples of classic open-ended questions start with “why,” “how” or “what” but they are not easy questions to ask out of the blue. It’s easier to ask a closed-ended question first, then follow it up with an open one afterward.

This is a question I often ask and I have a neat reply for both outcomes:

Closed question – “Do you draw or paint?”
Answer – “Yes a little”
Open Question –  “Really? What do you like doing?”

Or

Closed question – “Do you draw or paint?”
Answer – “No not me”
Open Question – “No? What makes you happy?”

The idea is to open a conversation and dig a bit deeper. It’s less about the facts and more about the feelings. A good conversation explores the emotions of doing something.

With luck, you will find common ground, and a meaningful exchange occurs quickly. Remember in a sales situation time is not on your side, so get stuck in.

#8 Sellers Must Know The Answers, Build Trust and Authority

There is nothing worse than speaking to a sales assistant who knows nothing about the product. That goes for artists who know nothing about their business too.

You have to know everything. If a customer wants to know the pressed weight of your paper, you must know it. If they ask you the size of frame they need, have it to hand.

I’ve even had people ask what font I’ve used on my prints. Some people actually care. (I use the Medici font by the way.)

Nothing screams of incompetence like a lack of knowledge.

You should know the following:

  • How the prints are made
  • What kind of paper you use
  • The best ways to frame your work. 
  • All dimensions.
  • All the materials you used to create the original
  • All prices and availability
  • The backstory to each picture
  • How to carry them home and after-care.

Customers want to know if the printing inks are lightfast. Will the paper go yellow? Will the surface smudge? Yes, some people think a print might smudge too.

Some artists want to know your drawing techniques and what pencils you use. So tell them. I don’t hide anything, what for? 

I have a wildlife theme. It’s my subject. Because I’m interested I know more than the average non-biologist passing by. I can be informative about wildlife viewing, traveling, and conservation, and that all adds to my authenticity and authority.

Be patient and treat every question as if it’s the first time you’ve ever been asked. That’s a selling skill that’s hard to master, but you’ve got to try.

#9 Be Upbeat. Skilled Sellers are Cheerful

Are You a Tigger or an Eeyore?

Nothing is more attractive than a person with a passion. If you have an understanding of a subject it’s far easier to enthuse about it.

You must present a positive spin to win people over. Even the subject matter must be upbeat to some extent.

Smile and look content. Even if sales are low and you’re wondering why you bother, you must remain approachable. Don’t sulk.

We ALL have bad days and it can be hard to stop a spiral of despair setting in but you must tell yourself that some days are just dead, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Experience teaches you that there is always tomorrow. Bad days are part of life, they come and they go. When you have a good day, the world is a great place and life is easy. It’s like a drug, you remember it and boy do you want it again.

On my first day selling my prints I earned over £300. That was a long time ago, and at the time my best weekly wage ever had been £200. After that I was like a fisherman, always waiting for the big fish.

Great white shark pencil drawing by Kevin Hayler
Gone Fishing

My more popular prints are positive too. They are mostly mothers and babies. They aren’t all cute by any means and my big cats sell well but on the whole, the most saleable images are predictable.

I have a few drawings that don’t sell well (see above!) because they project negative feelings. Some I did because I wanted to do them anyway but others I assumed would do well but made a mistake.

Further Reading: 12 Wildlife Art Bestsellers (Use These Subjects to Make Money)

My orphaned elephant falls into that category. I thought it was charming to draw a baby elephant feeding from a bottle. I didn’t realize that many people would find it too sad. 

Now I emphasize how the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust releases all their rescued elephants back into the wild in an attempt to put a more positive spin on the story.

Realistic pencil drawing of an orphaned elephant from Sheldricks elephant orphanage. Drawn by Kevin Hayler
‘Bottle-Fed’ a Pencil Drawing by Kevin Hayler

The same goes for the great apes. Some people see their faces as sad too.

It doesn’t matter that nature gives them naturally melancholy expressions. 

I’ve changed my drawings subtly to compensate. 

It’s not necessary to adopt the fluffy bunny approach but young animals are very appealing and do make people smile. That’s a positive emotion and I do enjoy seeing the kids getting sentimental.

So what if you’re not in the mood?

In truth, I’m not upbeat myself by nature. I’m reflective and prone to introspection, very much an Eeyore. That’s no good for selling anything so I have a sales persona more akin to Tigger. I can pretend to be happier than I feel.

Further Reading: How to Motivate Yourself to Draw When You’re Not in the Mood

I can be cheerful, jokey, and positive, especially when I get on a roll. It’s amazing how your mood changes a soon as you get a few sales under your belt.

And there’s nothing like the satisfaction you get from knowing someone has just bought your art to put on their wall. It’s not just about the money. It validates all your efforts and hard work.

Conclusion

‘Selling skills for Artists’ is the kind of post I wish I’d read before I started to trade.

All this stuff can all be learned with experience. You can gain the confidence you need with familiarity. You haven’t got to be wildly go-getting and dynamic. I’m certainly not.

The only way to really learn is on the job and if you can learn by your mistakes, and not be beaten by them, you have every chance of making your business succeed.


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sell more art image for Pinterest. A drawing with various art materials