One of the most successful ways that I’ve sold my art has been through local businesses, using the community art association as a liaison. If your goal is gallery representation, local sales can build your reputation and add credibility to your resume. And, your income from local sales can exceed what you earn with some galleries.
First, find nearby art associations and join some
Most communities have an art association of some kind. You’ll find them listed in the yellow pages of your local phone book, and sometimes online. Look in categories such as “Clubs”, “Associations”, and so on.
These groups are usually a mix of professionals and eager amateurs. At their (usually monthly) meetings, I’ve seen everything from gorgeous, $10K watercolors to crocheted dolls in unnatural colors & fibers. No two groups are the same.
Art associations sponsor regular–at least annual–gallery shows in their own meeting place or in a town hall or library meeting room. They often have at least one outdoor art show, at which you can display your art and perhaps demonstrate your techniques. Most art associations also have some juried shows and at least one or two annual shows that are open to all members, regardless of expertise.
Art association meetings include regular demonstrations (of art technique) by artists who usually sell some art to the members while they’re there. This can be a good outlet if you want to do demos; start by creating a form letter that you’ll send to every art association in the phone book. When the demo is announced, make sure that the publicity mentions that you’ll have art for sale, too. The art association takes a commission based on how much you sell, and everyone goes home happy.
Then, the art association helps you display your art locally
Many art associations have working relationships with local businesses, especially restaurants, bookstores, beauty salons, and banks… anyone with blank wall space that wants an “art show” to generate interest. (They use this to attract visitors and for press releases, publicity, etc., themselves.) Libraries are less likely to be able to offer work for sale, but it depends upon the local laws.
The best way that I’ve seen this work, is if the sales go through the art association. That is, there is a business card (for the art association) next to each piece of art, with a price noted and how to contact the art association for more info. Of course, this should be something better than voicemail; someone needs to be on hand to answer the phone. A member who works at home is good for this job. (The art association can have a single phone number, and use Call Forwarding to whomever is manning the phones that day/week.)
Art associations handle merchant accounts and credit card sales, too
The art association makes the sale, and has a merchant account at a bank to accept credit cards. The art association takes a percentage of the sales, usually about 20%. At the end of the month, the association issues a check to everyone whose art sold that month.
If you don’t have a local art association, start one. If you are in an art association that doesn’t have this kind of relationship with local businesses, bring it up at the next business meeting and get it started.
Yes, there are issues to sort out, including how the art is insured, if it’s protected from damage (especially in restaurants, smoky halls, and beauty salons) and so on. You can check with other art associations and see how they handle it; generally, I don’t fret about this too much, but some artists do. I’ve had small pieces stolen from shows, but never anything that was taken off the wall. (That said, it can happen, so never show your valuable art in a setting that makes you nervous.)
Anyway, that’s the general idea… really just the tip of the iceberg. I hope this helps!