Getting into galleries is like the holy grail for emerging artists, isn’t it? We all live in hope that we’ll sell plenty of art as soon as we’re represented by a couple of really great galleries. But to land your first gallery, you really have to be able to demonstrate that there’s a market for your work. In other words, you need to show a bit of a track record of sales.
How do you get that? How do you make some sales without being in a gallery? There appear to be numerous opportunities online, but in my mind the competition for online art buyers has become pretty fierce. This route, although a good one, requires you to invest a lot of time in building up a following and promoting your work through your own online channels. Selling at outdoor art fairs and festivals is also a possibility but requires a lot of specialized equipment.
So if you’re looking to make some immediate sales in the near future, I think you might be better off selling locally, in your own community to the people you already know. Here are seven places to make that happen:
1. Local and regional juried shows. Somewhere within 100 miles of you there is probably an art organization that is probably sponsoring a juried show. Throw your hat (or rather, your art) into the ring and submit an entry or two. The show opening will be an amazing opportunity for you to meet people, network, and hopefully sell your work. Just don’t go and stand in the shadows with your date. Be brave and engage in conversation with anyone who shows an interest in your art.
2. Public exhibits. Probably even closer to wherever you live is a public place such as a restaurant, coffee store, wine bar, club, library or any other place with a lot of foot traffic that will allow you to hold your own exhibition for two to four weeks. Put out lots of business cards, and have a book or sign-up sheet handy so you can collect the email addresses of everyone who stops by. Even better, stage an opening reception. Invite everyone you know and—here’s the key thing—encourage, pester, and beg your friends to bring their friends who like art so you can expand your reach. You will have to foot the bill for some refreshments but it’s a great place to start.
3. Private home or studio shows. On a similar note, you could have a one-night-only extravaganza reception and exhibition of your work in your studio or at your own home. If you’re not comfortable with this, maybe you have a friend or family member who has a really cool studio, house, or place of business that he or she would be willing to let you use. Again, the key will be asking all of your friends and family to bring plenty of art-loving guests so you can expand your reach beyond your immediate circle of contacts. Hand out business cards and collect those email addresses!
4. Open studio events. In quite a few cities across the country, there are buildings that have been converted into studio spaces, and the resident artists often hold open studio nights or weekends on a regular basis. Even if you’re not renting a studio space in one of these collectives, you may be able to rent out an unused stretch of wall just for one night or weekend. Contact the collective’s manager to find out.
5. Studio tours. This is another opportunity that I’ve seen around the country. They’re usually organized by the artist-members of a local organization, and the way it works is that many of the artists in the group all hold an open studio on the same day or weekend. They work together to create a map showing the locations of all the open studios and to promote the event. Visit the websites for Camano Island Studio Tour or Bainbridge Island Studio Tour to see what I mean. Perhaps you could collaborate with other artists in your area to set one up.
6. High-end gift stores. You might not be ready for a gallery, but your work might fit beautifully among the other items for sale at a high-end gift store. If your originals are already a little too pricey for the store you have in mind, talk to the owner about showing a few reproductions or prints. As with a gallery, you will probably have to set up a commission arrangement with the owner.
7. Anywhere. Okay, so that’s a little obtuse, but here’s what I mean: Over and over again, I hear stories from savvy artists who carry some kind of portfolio around with them (in their bags, on their phones) who have ended up selling artwork to some random person they just met… at the doctor’s office, at Starbucks, on an airplane, you name it. In other words, networking and selling can happen everywhere you go if you tune into opportunities and are prepared to seize them when they arise.
Like pretty much everything else in life, making those first few sales requires some hustle. But it will be so worth it when you’re able to start listing collectors and exhibitions on your resume and to proudly proclaim to those gallery directors that yes, your work has been selling.
What are some of the creative places and ways you’ve sold your art? Let’s connect!
P.S. Are you an emerging artist? You may be interested in my Art Marketing Weekly program that guides you step-by-step through developing a strategic marketing plan and establishing a system for marketing your art. Click here for more details.