Having the hang ups discussed before, I thought I would follow up with how I get around them and sell my work.
First, I have a rather unique position for selling my art. There are good and bad points to not following the normal path for illustrators – that of slaving for the book companies and doing years of junk art, and then finally getting book covers or good assignments. The good part is I skipped right ahead to selling my work directly to the fans and doing pieces that I wanted to do. But this has also limited my exposure to a broader base. I am saying this because artists like Larry Elmore or Todd Lockwood have a much different scenario for selling their work. They have been publicized by one agency or another, and are generally well known for their work that has graced the covers of many popular books. My work has only its own merits and quality as a selling point, and can not rely on people already being familiar with it or having well known and loved characters in it.
Strategy 1 – Time will tell.
The thing I rely on the most is slowly building a reputation among the places I sell and letting patrons get used to seeing my work on a personal level. While at these venues, I also try to put myself out there to answer questions, meet people, and just talk. When someone walks up to my work I do not pounce on them trying to sell. So many of the artists at the various shows I do spend most of their time trying to weasel into someone’s pocketbook. In fact, I do my best to let the viewer know that I am not just there to sell to them, I want to make art first and let them come to a decision on their own about the work. Most of the people who buy my work are people I have known and talked to for years before ever selling a piece to them. The crazy thing is, after this time, it is normally not just a print that they buy, but an original. I just wonder if after the time they have invested in getting to know my work, they feel that a simple print will not satisfy the bond they have with me or my work.
I used to dismiss sales to friends, not considering them as real art sales, but then I realized I sell almost exclusively to people I consider friends. And this is probably because I try to get to know them instead of just selling work for the quickest profit. At Illuxcon they had a panel on how to sell or buy artwork. I did not get to attend but my buddy Sam Flegal did. He came back with some tips that go right along with these ideas – to a point. The art buyer teaching the panel said to always greet a prospective buyer, ask for their name, and give them your name. But after that panel I walked into the artist showcase and every other artist had their hand out asking for my name. My advice is to be true to your feelings. People can feel the sleaze off a car salesman, so don’t ask for names as a way to sell your work, ask for their name if you really care. People can tell the difference.
Strategy 2 – Work with your Flaws
So my brother Paul is very charismatic. People often come into our booth and they are immediately drawn to his stories and large personality. I am the quiet one. Instead of trying to be loud and attention getting, I have to figure out how to draw people into a discussion without being “on” the whole day since that just is not my personality. This year I came up with some great ways to bring people in to my world while still being the quiet one. First I printed out small descriptions for some of my more popular pieces and put that up near the art. If people were interested in the story behind the work I didn’t have to interrupt their viewing with the story, they could go to it as needed. I also put some of these in my print book next to the print, giving the viewer another small glimpse at what I was thinking without having to interrupt their experience.
Another thing I have had good success with is doing art at the booth. Now having your head down sketching in a book is a great way to run off a patron, so I had to try to figure out how to make art and still interact with the customer. I had moderate success with this, but a great example is my friend Lindsay Archer. She set up an umbrella and easel outside her booth at the Georgia Renaissance Festival. Before people even came into her booth they got to see her working and had an opportunity to talk with her. Another great way to start a conversation is to do some sort of commissions. I have started doing small strange ink drawings for people. It does not bring in a bunch of cash, but it does what I need it to do, it gives me an opening to talk to a person and get to know them. I guarantee that the people that I did $20 drawing for this year will come back next year and talk and possibly buy something else.
Art is a great way to connect people, so I just always try to figure out a way to downplay my weaknesses and make those connections in a more comfortable way. Now I am sure others would scoff at my approach saying it is not aggressive enough, but we each do what feels natural, I feel it is always best to be who you are rather then pretend to be something you are not. Especially if it is just for another buck.