Sell your art locally

woman at easelOne 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!

What is ‘true art’?

    Background: In December 2003, a debate flared up online when someone used the phrase ‘true art’ and tried to suggest that some artists’ works aren’t really art. This was my reply. I think that it applies to many discussions about art as a profession, so I’ve included it here.

If we start debating what is “true art,” we’re going to have problems in a hurry. Most of them will be semantic.

Recently, I laughed out loud when one directory-type website put all “physical arts” (ballet, etc) in the category of “sports.”

I understand their dilemma. I mean, some of the gymnastic work that I see at the Olympics (for example) are very definitely “art,” but they’re also sports. How can anyone draw a line between the two?

So, let’s not go down any path that involves saying what’s “art” or “true art,” and what isn’t. There will always be debates about the nature of crafts, and where mixed media art fits in, and so on. That’s just semantics.

In my opinion, it’s art if you say that it’s art. Period.

Along the same line… Let’s not reduce our discussions to what artistic compromises and marketing techniques are acceptable or moral or anything like that.

Most of us make compromises now & then, if not in our art then in our marketing, to secure an income.

I follow trends and statistics to see what’s selling well at eBay and elsewhere. And often, I look at them and realize, “Cool! I’ve wanted to try some art in that style. Now I have a good excuse to do that!”

I learn from the process, and the art usually sells.

Is it all true, meaningful art? I haven’t a clue. It’s creative and it’s fun. I call it art. That’s all that really matters.

Teaching at National Art Events

If you’ve been teaching at shops for awhile, national art events might be your logical next step. However, they’re not the best choice for everyone.

For the first year or two, expect to lose money teaching at art events. Event paychecks may look juicy, but when you factor in travel, supplies (that you provide), and prep & recovery time, it can equal minimum wage.  Events often require more complex classes, with far more info, more demos, plus more handouts and supplies that you provide.

To learn more about paycheck issues at events, see my article, What Art Teachers Are Paid.

You’ll need to create very different classes than what you usually teach at shops.  Students won’t pay high event prices for classes they can take — for far less — at a local shop.

You’ll need to steadily create new classes, anyway. Some of your event students will go home and teach the exact same class… for far less than you’d charge. They may even use your handouts without your permission. (Almost every teacher has dealt with this at least once. Be gracious about it, but be certain they’re crediting you for the original information. After all, that’s good for your reputation.)

Some teachers continue teaching at shops.  Many don’t.

Within a couple of years on the national scene, other income opportunities will open up.  National events make you into a ‘name’ in this field. Your artwork might earn higher prices in galleries. You may discover licensing opportunities, book contracts, and — of course — fabulous networking… but don’t count on that your first year or two.

The tricky part can be bringing in income during those “bridge” years.  Etsy is one of many options.

Teaching at national events propels your career so quickly, it can be breathtaking.  It’s not a smart choice for everyone. But, if it works well for you, the personal rewards — far beyond the paychecks — are tremendous!