Selling Art with Confidence

By Carolyn Edlund

Is lack of confidence dragging down your art sales?


Art Show


The other day a good friend and I walked through an art show taking place on the grounds of a park in beautiful San Diego, California. Art was displayed in booths along a walkway filled with visitors, with perhaps twenty artists exhibiting their work.

The artists had something else in common too – they were universally silent. As we made our way through each and every display, not one artist approached or even spoke to us about their work. One gentleman and his wife sat a good twenty feet back from their display, as if they didn’t want to interact with customers at all.

I vowed to myself to make a purchase from the first artist who greeted us and talked about their work. It never happened.


Art Show San Diego


We moved on to an artist’s village in Balboa Park, where we browsed through permanent studio storefronts. Here, the artists had their own shops, and fortunately were much more interested in approaching customers and talking about their art. I purchased several prints and a piece of blown glass.

What was the difference here? One of the problems that artists have when they set up at an art show is that they aren’t thinking like store owners. But they should be; their stores may be temporary, but they are in fact stores.

Lack of confidence is often a problem when artists only venture out into the sales world every so often. But confidence sells more work, by a long shot.

When you don’t interact, it is communicated to your customers that you don’t care. You may simply feel awkward, but your silence is actually speaking volumes.  Questions go unanswered, and a huge dimension of your work – which is you yourself as the artist, your inspiration, your technique, your vision – are absent.

Next time you are “in the field” (perhaps literally) challenge yourself to think like a store owner. Prepare ahead with comments and information that tell your customers about your work. Memorize this, even if it’s just a catchphrase to start a conversation. Despite your discomfort, do it anyway.

As you make that contact, it gets a lot easier. Your comfort zone gets larger. You become more confident. As you make sales of your work that result from “thinking like a store owner” and connecting with customers, you will gain even more confidence. Give it a try, and watch how your opportunities improve.


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  1. At an art fair I attended a long time ago, I noticed the artist way in the back of his booth reading the newspaper…that was such a turn off to me! But I learned a lot by that encounter…or lack of!! I haven’t shown at an art fair for a few years now (still building my new portfolio), but when I did I always greeted each person that entered my booth….I was thrilled when people came in and we could engage in conversation! That’s one of the best parts to me. Of course it’s not easy, you have to push yourself….but it makes the day much more enjoyable and like you said, it’s about selling…which is why we are there in the first place!!

    • You are so right. And you may even find that some of those conversations turn into a relationship with a collector, or a real fan who loves to refer you to other buyers.

      There isn’t much good that can come from reading the paper in a booth, but a lot of potential when you go for it and speak out!

  2. Wish I had been there, you would have bought from me. Bottom line; people buy from people. I don’t like selling, I don’t like talking to strangers, but I do it. How boring to ignore customers anyway.

    • Yes, I would have bought something from you, Clay! And you are right – people buy from other people. Personality and communication are so important.

  3. You rock, Carolyn! Thanks for this great post! As a buyer, I also look for an artist that is friendly and engaging. As a seller, I like to make people feel that I appreciate the fact they stopped in to see my work. It’s a fine line between engaging the customer/viewer and giving them the space to enjoy the work, but letting them know you are appreciative of their presence, and open for chatting is important!

  4. Great post Carolyn! Up here in Sun Valley we have quite a few well known summer arts/crafts fairs. I have noticed the exact same aloof behavior displayed by the majority of artists! Although I don’t like a hard-sell approach, to be completely ignored seems rude. It’s interested how a ‘lack of confidence’ or shyness in people can be mistaken for rudeness (or conceit!). Here is a helpful post about attracting people into your art booth, but let’s not ignore those potential customers! I’d love you to share another guest post sometime, and we should catch up sometime soon!

    • Thanks for the link Lori – excellent article! Benoit has some wonderful ideas that are easy to put into practice.

      I will catch up with you soon!

      • Hello Carolyn,
        I recently put my website together and I love to receive newsletters because I learn a lot from them. I read the comments about how we should “behave” when we are out there trying to sell our art and I couldn’t agree more with you. I strongly believe, based on my own experience, that the public likes, in general, to hear about your work and also a little bit about you. Actually I think if you open up to them, they can relate your personality with your art piece.

        My watercolors (landscapes) are mostly from pictures I took in another countries or painted at plein air, and people are so interested in knowing where is that, what was that caught my attention when deciding the subject of my painting, and sometimes, they just wanted to know a little bit about me when they hear my accent. And you know what? When they buy my art, I am delighted to have an idea where and with whom my painting will be. Thanks for listening!!


  5. Hi Carolyn, I used to live in San Diego and and know exactly what you are saying in your blog. Last time I went back there, I took my portfolio and went around to meet the gallery owners but they looked down their noses and would not give me the time of day because I did not participated in any juried shows.

    I took my easel and went down to Coronado Beach and set up to paint. For 3 days I was doing small studies of Point Loma and guess what? Three people came and bought my artwork only because I was engaging them in conversation. A lot of other people came and asked if I would allow for my photo to be taken with them.

    I am looking forward to doing the same thing again this Christmas.

    Cheers ,


    • Jodam, I congratulate you for stepping out of your comfort zone and connecting with your audience. You are proof that people do want to buy from people, not just the product of their creativity. Well done!

  6. Good post, and I do agree with you for the most part. I would like to add, however, that I prefer a little time to browse the art before being approached by the artist. I like to be greeted and welcomed to browse a display with the artist quietly standing by for a while. A savvy artist will then make a comment about a particular piece he or she sees you interested in. I’ve been approached by artists who come at you like a used car salesman with nonstop chatter, and that, for me, is a turn off. I think greeting, being available, and reading your client is a good approach.

    • There is definitely an art to sales. Asking, “May I help you?” is a mistake – the answer is “No, I’m just looking.” Your insight about greeting the visitor to break the ice and commenting on something they are interested in is a good way to develop a conversation.
      Used car salesman cliches refer to people talking at you, not with you. A smart artist who wants to truly connect with their customer develops a conversation with them. As a peer, asking questions, and being consultative.

    • Yes Sharon, I agree that there is a certain observation skill that a selling artist would benefit from. Customers don’t want to be ignored or overwhelmed.

  7. I used to sell my art at the Santa Barbara Sunday Beach Art Show. I have noticed that the personality of most artists is NOT also that of a salesperson. All artist should take some 101 classes in sales. One of the best salesmen at the art show was HATED by his peers! Why? Because he sold so much damn art! He engaged every person with an upbeat attitude, told them in no uncertain terms that his art was ‘professional’ and ‘A+’. He explained his art, etc. Granted, he did some art that many of us did not consider ‘art’, however, that is not the point. The point is that the guy knew how to sell his own art.

    Most of the festivals require that the artist be there and represent (and sell) their own work. For the right-brained artist, this can border on torture. BUT there is really no way around it except to buck up and get some tutoring on sales techniques, and realize that it just has to be done. It doesn’t take much. People attending arts and crafts shows mostly do it because they love arts and crafts, getting out and talking to people, and buying and displaying art.

    All that really needs to happen is:
    1. when a customer enters your store, you acknowledge their presence. Smile. Nod. Stand up and greet them. Get good at reading body language. Greet in person the friendly ones, simply smile at those who seem not to want to be approached yet.
    2. watch them…when they have questions, you can usually tell by their body language before they ever ask. Don’t make them ask, engage them, “Can I answer any questions you may have?”
    (I used to watch the FEET of my customers. If they stayed well-planted and pointing towards the art for more than a few moments, I would get up. People who are not interested will not plant their feet. One toe will point away, that foot will start to step, etc.)
    3. don’t be afraid to offer them other options. If you feel they think it is too much (because they have said as much), mention that you also have prints or smaller versions.
    4. Many people don’t care about things such as medium, or technique, etc. they just want to know that it is going to look great in their house. Tell them as much. There is nothing wrong with saying, “Is that for your living room?” then engage in the conversation, ALWAYS being positive, “Oh I’ll bet that will look AMAZING in your house!” that is what they want to hear…give them that gift.
    5. Do NOT project your own poverty-consciousness onto your potential clients by deciding by the way they look if they can afford your art or not. I once sold a $30,000 vehicle to a farmer in overalls and his poor-looking daughters…they had just won the lottery.
    6. Don’t be afraid to ‘ask for the sale’. There are many great passive ways of doing this.
    First, you feel them out with a sale-leading qualifying question, such as:
    “Do you like this frame, or would you prefer one more like this?” A question such as this will tell you right away whether they are serious. If they are serious, they will consider and answer your question. If they are not serious, or not yet committed, a question like this will make them nervous, they will back-peddle, say they are just looking or they don’t have the money, etc.

    If you think they seriously want the art, but they haven’t made the first move, it is YOUR job to ASK for the sale. That’s right. YOU are selling. It is almost imperative for the seller to make the first move, here are a number of ways to do it, depending on the circumstance:
    “Will you need that shipped?”
    “I take credit cards or cash, which would you prefer to use?”
    “We can help you load that into your car if you want to bring it closer.”
    “I’ll let you have the little piece for 1/2 off if you get this bigger one.”
    “Which one do you think you want: the green one or the blue one?”

    Many sellers are very uncomfortable with asking for the sale. But you have to remember that you want to be asked for the sale when you shop for something of value. Rarely do you just pop out the wallet and start counting.

    Ask your potential customers questions that REQUIRE YES OR NOW answers. This controls the conversation and keeps them from venturing off into muddle land. Once they have answered yes to a leading question, then you need to hop on it, pull out the credit card machine or whatever and transact the sale. Get moving! This is not a party. This is a sales event.

    Engage the customer – (how are you folks today?)
    Help them feel good about your art. (I won a show last week with that piece)
    Help them feel good about deciding to buy your art (it will look great in your house)
    Help them start the sales process (cash or credit?)
    Send them off feeling great! (I’ll add you to my mailing list and whenever I am in the area, I’ll let you know)
    Thank them for their purchase (I really appreciate your support of the arts. I hope you enjoy that piece for years to come)

    And practice before the show if you’re shy or this seems really hard to you. Find a car salesperson friend, or someone who sells stereos or something for a living. They know all these techniques, and it is important you practice before the main event. Run some lines that you memorize, and just use those until they start to feel comfortable, and you realize that people really DO want you to SELL to them. They want you to help them make it ok to spend their money on art. Especially in these economic times. Sorry for the long response… maybe I should teach art sales to artists… 🙂

    • Thanks for all the thoughtful input, Anne.

      What you describe is called the “assumptive close” and can work well, but be sure to understand during your conversation who the decision makers are. If your prospect needs to speak with her husband before committing, get those facts, and respond accordingly. Your sales cycle may have just gotten longer. That is where follow up comes in!

      • good point! When I sold cars, someone had to tell me that in Chinese families it was ALWAYS the elder woman who actually would make the decision, so even if she seemed completely uninvolved and/or disinterested in the process, you better make sure she liked it too! 🙂

        • What a great example! I like to mention to people also that if you customer has a friend with her, include them in the conversation. They may be quiet, but might end up buying something too!

  8. Hi Carolyn, I took a business course for creative “artrepreneurs.” We studies booth designs and how artists engage customers. Afterward, every show I went to I looked to see what artists were doing. Many just sat their, some in their booths, some outside. Some were eating or left a drink in their booth. There were two young ladies whose wood small sculptures were stunning. I complimented them and they shyly said thank you behind their case in the back. I wanted to say, ” Come out and greet your potential customers!” Another artist just sat while I picked up her brochure. At a small town arts and crafts show I was looking at polished rock handles. The woman who was selling those crocheted topped kitchen towels and other such things was so engaging that I bought four handles. She knew how to sell!

    • Hi Jean,

      Makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

      Making art and selling art are two very different skills. Making art for art’s sake is totally valid, and if you love it, do it. But if you want to sell successfully, you must educate yourself on how to make sales. Good for you for attending your business course – you are ahead of the game!

      • I had an artist friend who swore that since art and marketing were 2 totally different skills that every artist, upon birth, should be paired with a marketer and together they could build a business…not a bad idea, if the market would support it. I think a lot of artists would go a lot further with someone with that mindset as a partner.

  9. I started attending art shows back in the 1970’s when I first started painting with watercolor. At first my wife and I sat in lawn chairs at the back of the booth. We did connect with our viewers, but I didn’t like having to look up at them, and I don’t believe they liked looking down at me. The solution was to stand. After one or two, or even three days of that, a new solution was sought. Tall director chairs were the answer. We bought two directors chairs and put them at the front of our booth, we can be seated and for the most part, be eye to eye with our viewers. Of course moving around to point out various things about the paintings is still a big part of it, but the tall chairs helped so much. We acknowledge everyone we can, but we allow them plenty of “space” and never attempt a hard sell.

    • Smart move, Monte. I totally agree, and wore out several director’s chairs myself back when I had my studio and sold at fairs. Being at eye level puts you in a position to easily engage people without getting up (which can make people feel uneasy, as if they are committing to a sales pitch)

  10. I agree that you want to engage your visitors.

    But asking how they want to pay for something they have not asked to purchase or telling them it will look great in their home you’ve never visited may be a bit pushy.

    I like to discuss how I came to make an image or what I felt when I was photographing there.

    People browse art shows as spectators far more frequently than as purchasers. It’s a day in the sun or a free visit to a museum for them. A chat with the artist about art is a way to enhance their outing.

    If they do want to buy something, they will browse the show and then come back to the people they want to buy from. They will remember you and the conversation as well as the art. They will know something personal about the piece of art they admired.

    Sharing a creative experience, telling them a story, finding out what they like or giving them a small piece of art like a postcard has staying power. It enables them to like you, which reinforces them liking your art.

    You don’t often know what your visitors do for a living or how much money they have so a clumsy closing line may turn many people off. Just be an artist and talk to people about art.

    But by all means, talk with your visitors.

    • There is a difference between pushy and helping your buyers buy. After all, you are selling something..they just happen to be walking by and may turn out to be interested. This is a problem for many MANY people in all walks of life – they are afraid of being pushy and often lose sales because of it. Your closing line will only be clumsy if you have not practiced it or have applied it incorrectly. I know so many people who are just afraid to sell. Period. And no matter what you tell them, they will fight you.

      It’s not pushy to compliment someone’s home you have never seen. I would have had to have written an entire book to cover everything. You discuss your art, and you discuss your client. ‘where do you live?’ is simple…they tell you about the new house they just built with a view of the ocean and you are set for the next line, which could then easily be, “Wow! This will probably look fantastic in your new house”. If they tell you they live in a camper then you know where you stand.

      I once sold a painting to a one-legged formerly homeless guy (lost his leg when hit by a train) who lived in subsidized housing. The artist next to me, after that sale, bragged he sold a painting to a blind woman once, and his neighbors confirmed his story. The legless guy slowly perused all my art while pushing his crappy bike through my stall. I did not judge. He was genuinely, carefully looking at every piece. When he pulled up to a surf piece of a local, famous break, I could see tears well up in his eyes, and I asked the simple leading question, “What are the tears about?” He told me a good friend recently died, and they had a Hawaiian style, paddle-out memorial for him. I offered him a deal on the painting, and he pulled out $100 in crispy $20’s, tucked it under his arm, and joyfully peddled off.

      Another time, a tourist from New York (I was in Santa Barbara) whisked into my booth and glommed onto a particularly large painting, and almost right away said, “I didn’t expect to find something I liked so much!” to which I replied, “I can ship it to New York, no problem.” She said, “Really? Oh that would be great.” “I take credit cards” “perfect. Mastercard ok?” as she whipped it out. If I had simply said “Thanks” instead of closing her, she may have gotten distracted by the guy’s work next door, a car crash on the street adjoining the show, or any number of things and wandered off. I’ve seen it happen numerous times. People want to be closed. They really do. They want YOU to make their non-essential, potentially frivolous buying decision for them.

      I have watched and listened to artists just ‘talk’ to people, and have cringed at the numerous opportunities to close the sale that they miss. I practically have to stuff my fist in my mouth to stop myself from trying to close their customer…and I am not an overly pushy, outgoing person. I just know the clues from selling other stuff. Everyone who sells anything needs to learn these simple techniques. I am sure Carolyn’s course covers all this.

      • Anne, I agree with you,

        People love to be sold stuff. They just don’t want to be pressured.

        That’s the delicate balance, where you know the difference, do what is right for the customer, and still sell your heart out.

        • Anne, I’m sure you are good at closing sales. I don’t know what price range you are selling, so someone interested in a multi-thosand dollar painting vs. a $25 print would be approached differently

          My point is one of style. It’s a matter of how you ask for the sale.

          I sell large format Giclee printers and when a prospective customer approaches my boothat a trade show, often my first question is, “did you bring your truck? I can help you load this up.”

          It’s light and low pressure but it helps determine the prospect’s interest level or time frame. Then the conversation can evolve to the benefits. THEN the close.

          I believe it’s a similar with art. If you engage them on the ownership of this piece, or the evolution of the image, the transaction can fall into place naturally.

          I’m sure we agree on more points than we disagree on. “Cash of Credit” just isn’t one of those.


  11. I find it helps to have people skills. Not just in selling art, but in life in general. I always witnessed my mom and dad striking up conversation with complete strangers. It’s how one makes friends. Now that I’m older and trying to sell my photographs, I find that the skill to strike up a conversation and find something in common with people, really helps me. Being quiet and sitting back never got anyone anywhere but ignored.

    I’m happy to see my son (who is 3) is outgoing and friendly. He will say hi and shake hands with anyone we see.

  12. All your great posts remind me of something that happened to me in another professional life. I was a young pharmacist on her first day on the job and a client came in. I said “hello”, he said “good morning” and I asked “what can I do for you?”. “I have a sore throat”, he answered. “Well, you might think about taking a cup of hot tea with honey” I heard myself saying. Guys, don’t ask me why I didn’t get fired that day, I truly don’t know the answer.
    I love painting but selling? It’s a nightmare!

  13. I just went to an art show and remembered this article. Not one seller talked to me. Some were hidden. Most were looking down, avoiding eye contact. I doubt I would have really noticed how bad they (we artists) are at selling if not for this article. Something to keep in mind.

  14. I know this is an older article but in case its of value to anyone there is a San Diego centric facebook group for artists to advertise to the local area; San Diego Art Trader

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