Selling Art | How Does Your Art Get Sold?

Author and industry expert Barney Davey shares smart strategies on how to grow your art business locally.


Barney Davey

Author and art marketing expert Barney Davey


Many factors go into selling art and building a successful art career. Top selling artists learn to achieve a balance between making work that sells and finding and tapping the best markets to sell their work.

How Is Your Balance?

A frequent lament from talented artists is they know their work would sell if only enough people saw it. What this indicates is they are out of balance. Either they are not spending enough time on art marketing, not using their resources wisely, or both.

How Do You Fare Selling Art in Your Local Market?

Many struggling artists look past their local market. They think marketing to galleries and potential buyers thousands of miles away, or to virtual strangers online is the way to build a successful art career. The most affordable marketing and easiest sales are to people who know you, but you still have to tell them you are actively selling art.

100 Collectors Can Bulletproof Your Art Career

A credible estimate is most artists can make about 1,000 originals in a lifetime. For instance, making 33 pieces per year over a 30-year career will get you 999 originals. Your mileage may vary.

If you build a loyal collector base of 100 direct buying patrons, they can conceivably be responsible for purchasing a third or more of your oeuvre. Moreover, some assuredly will bring you strong referrals and open doors with powerful introductions and recommendations. Trusty direct art buyers can help you stay afloat in the toughest of times and put you miles ahead in the best of times.

Selling Art Locally Creates an Incredibly Strong Buyer Base

As you learn to be successful selling art at the local level, you build a solid foundation that will fund your more ambitious marketing efforts. Local marketing does not necessitate a large budget. It requires being pleasantly persistent in finding qualified patrons to buy your art. If you are proud of your work, nothing should stop you from professionally presenting your work wherever you go.

Be a Smart Networker

Research helps you maximize your marketing efforts. Determine and seek centers of influence and use your own growing list of names to help them get value from knowing you. Learn to network and spend time where your buyers meet and congregate.

Do your friends and family know you are an artist with work to promote? Have you supplied them with postcards, sales sheets, or other art marketing materials to give to others? In your professional circle, how many contacts have bought your art?

Although not everyone you know is a prospect to buy your art, they are all in a position to recommend you to their family, friends and colleagues. Give them a reason to help you, especially the connected ones.

Asking for a referral for the sake of the referral is weak. Asking for a referral for a reason is compelling. “Could you introduce me to the curator of the upcoming exhibit because I know my art is a perfect fit for its mission?” A small thing can make a huge difference in the outcome of your request.

Your Network Is Larger than You Think

Do your doctor, lawyer, CPA, and bookkeeper own your art? Have you shown them your art? Do your friends, family or professional relationships regularly refer prospects to you? Have you asked them to refer you? What about service people, acquaintances, clubs, organizations, church, and schools? You can turn friend and acquaintances into buyers or champions of your work just by politely asking with a reason.

You sought the right person and asked the right question because you researched whom and what you need before you began networking. Make your effort more powerful yet by paying a favor forward. That is, find a way to do a favor for your prospect before you ask them for help. Never be bashful when asking for getting introductions or referrals.

Two Ways to Bulletproof Your Career

  1. Ramp up your local marketing through effective researched networking efforts.
  2. Concentrate on building as many direct buying relationships as possible.

As you succeed at the above two points, you will build a solid foundation of core devoted art buyers who will immunize you against galleries closing, Facebook flopping or other uncontrollable things that can wreck your indirect distribution channels.

Do not abandon galleries, social media, or alternative marketing. Rather use them as secondary points of sale for your art. As much as ethically possible use them to funnel prospects back to buying art directly from you. Do these things and you shall succeed!

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  1. Thank you for this practical, informative info re: marketing art. Have a blissful, creative day!

    Peace, Harmony and Happiness to all!

  2. Wonderful, practical advice. As an introvert, I find myself constantly pushing to go outside my comfort zone. Nine times out of ten, when I do this, I’m sooo happy that I did.

  3. Thanks for the very good tips!
    I have been really confused about where and who to approach!

  4. First, many thanks to Carolyn for publishing this guest post. It is fun to put one’s thoughts out in a new format, and to reach new readers. To Joanne, Janet and Karen, thank you for taking your time to comment. It is gratifying to know the post hit home with you. I have seen wonderful things happen when capable people conquer their fears and do things they never thought they could. I hope you will continue to press and get known locally. It is such a great way to build your career on solid ground.

  5. Great article.

    My wife and I met a hand crafted jewelry maker in Maui. In speaking with her, one of the things she said is that you only need enough customers to support yourself. No more. No less. When you think about it, having a hungry and interested loyal group of customers really is a great goal to have and to try to achieve.

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