I participated in my first Artomatic (AOM) in 2010. Since then I have participated each show including those in Maryland and West Virginia. I have sold at least half of my work at each show – and I take a lot of work to these shows. I’m writing this post to help others sell at AOM too. I will explain what I do and why. I will give you detailed example of what not to do and why (in my view). Unfortunately I have a tendency to be a bit long-winded because I try to detail exactly why something should or should not be done, so grab your favorite beverage & get comfy.
I sell because I make it easy to buy.
Period. Quality of work and price are largely irrelevant. There are so many artists whose work is infinitely better than mine but who don’t sell as much because they make it hard to buy. I should make it clear that I am NOT a gallery artist. I am a self-produced artist (see link at bottom) so my goals, and the rules that govern what I can and cannot do, are very, very different from a gallery artist. That said, I understand both sides of the art world.
The advice I give here will work for both types of artists. However, gallery artists will need to think about their overall goals: Do you want to sell work or are you participating in AOM solely to attract galleries? Those two things may not work well together. I provide bits of caution for gallery artists periodically so be sure to read carefully. If you don’t know what kind of artist you are, there’s a link at the bottom that explains the two paths.
My First Artomatic – As A Visitor
I attended my first Artomatic in 2007 with my husband. Our plan was to find some art for our new apartment. We found at least four pieces we loved, two by a single artist. We bought nothing, not one single piece. Why? Because we couldn’t figure out how!! Two of the 3 artists had no contact information at all – empty business card holders and nothing posted on the wall. We didn’t even know their names. The third artist had business cards but nothing on his website about purchasing, pricing, etc. Yes we could have emailed but I, like many “normal people,” hate contacting someone just to find out a price. It’s both awkward and rude. Don’t me me jump through hoops to buy your work. It makes me assume you don’t really want my money (or that it’s priced higher than I can afford).
If you’re a gallery artist, I know you cannot put prices on your site, but you can explain that and you should because most people have no idea how the gallery world works.
Artomatic IS NOT A GALLERY SHOW.
Seriously, it isn’t. Do not try to make it a gallery show! Sadly a considerable number of exhibiting artists try to make it one every year. The Artomatic 2010 event had over 70,000 people walk through the door. Many of the attendees do not go to art galleries. The common perception is that most art galleries are stuffy, pretentious places filled with expensive art. Artomatic, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. It’s inviting, fun, and filled with art at all price levels, styles, and mediums. Tailor your space to the patrons that attend AOM, not gallery patrons, if you want to maximize your sales.
WHAT YOU SHOULD (consider) DOING
SIGNAGE IDENTIFIES YOUR SPACE:
Make sure your space is labeled as your space, clearly. I have several signs I use for these shows. They’re posters I had printed up, cheaply, and framed in standard size frames (because its cheaper that way). By adding a highly visible sign (i.e. not an 8×10″ sign) in your space, when people look for you, they can find you. I usually do my volunteer shifts as floor-walker. Each year I get at least a handful of people looking for a specific artist. More often than not, we both have to search the floor more than necessary because the artist’s name is on a dinky little sign – if anywhere other than on a price list, label or business card. Don’t make people hunt for you! It’s bad for sales!
If you put out business cards, make sure you put out a LOT of cards. Too often artists buy a standard one from the office supply store. Those are made for a desk so they hold a very small number of cards. In case you missed it, this show attracts tens of thousands of people. You don’t need thousands of cards, but you do need something that can hold more than 30 of them at a time. I made a large one for my first show from scrap wood. I still use it. It’s way too big but I’ve never run out of cards.
Learn from my fail: before my first Artomatic I read that I should have “no less than 5,000 business cards.” Do not buy 5,000 business cards. Yes, 70,000+ people attended in 2010. I used less than 500. When I re-branded myself a few years later, I recycled at least 3,500 of them. Remember: cell phones have cameras which make business cards irrelevant for many people. If you label properly, you definitely won’t need to worry about running out of cards between visits either.
LABELING YOUR WORK:
Selling artwork at Artomatic begins before installation. Yup, before installation. Once I’ve determined which art will be shown (I do a test setup on the floor in my house), I make my labels. Labels are your key to success. Labels should contain all applicable information – information applicable to making a sale. That means putting a title and number (referenced on a far away price list) are useless, especially on busy nights & even more so if you run out. My labels contain minimal information but your may need more. Did you spend 200 hours on the piece? It is oil or acrylic paint? Sometimes that information can actually help you make a sale (or justify your sales price). Just don’t go overboard. No one really cares what year you created a piece in and if they do, you have a website for that (and you should have website for that!).
To the left is an example of my labels. What you see is clear, precise, and a tad redundant. I only include what I deem necessary on my labels. By leaving the details off the label I can make the text larger. Why is that important? Cell phones.
After my first show I realized that people were taking pictures of the work with the label. Originally my labels had all the “usual” info so my buyers needed to take two pictures (one of the art, one of the label). Each event I receive emails with two attached photos (even on small works) which is why I learned that less is more when it comes to the information placed on the label.
My label does not contain my phone number. From a business standpoint, I learned from some of my office jobs that doing business via email is a good thing. It protects both myself and my patrons. There is no confusion about pricing, delivery or pickup, locations, dates, etc. Everything is in writing. This is a business decision you will need to make for yourself of course.
My label contains both my email and my web address even though the web address is in the email address. There are two reasons for this. First, if someone wants to contact me while they are standing in front of my wall, having only my website forces them to navigate to my site to find my contact information. That’s just rude (because it’s wasting their time), unnecessary, and may result in the loss of a sale if they can’t get a stable connection. Second, not every artist’s email address is the same as their web address. Even though mine is, I learned a lesson a long time ago that I carry with me always: every time you make something idiot proof, they make a better idiot. Harsh, but very true. I don’t assume everyone notices that my email address ends in a web address, nor should you.
A ‘How To Purchase’ Statement
Many of you reading this will assume that people will just email you if they want to buy. Some of them will but others won’t get that far because of uncertainty. Some people will think you aren’t really interested in selling. The more questions they have before they contact you, and/or the more concerns they have about doing so, the worse your chances of getting contacted. Yes, this is counter intuitive. While I could explain why, you’d be reading an article twice as long. Basically empower your potential clients with as much information as possible beforehand so they actually do contact you.
Below is a link to an example of my “how to purchase” document. I place one of these on my table or just above it. The table contains my business cards and guestbook and it’s tall enough that most people won’t have to bend over to sign the book (also, no one trips on it or fails to notice it). If a space is awkward or I think the big sign (8×10″) will be too easily missed, I will also place smaller ones (5×7″) in key places.
Example How To Purchase Statement (pdf opens in new tab / window)
It’s important to clearly state that people CANNOT get the artwork after the show. Let me repeat: they CANNOT take work the last day of the show – you CANNOT take work the last day of the show. Providing that information helps to prevent confusion, misunderstandings, and hard feelings.
Payment methods are totally up to you:
- I highly recommend Square for credit cards (I do not get anything for referring). There are no merchant accounts, set up fees, etc. You pay a bit more in the transaction fee but that’s the only fee you pay.
- PayPal is recommended with caution. NEVER do a transaction as a gift. There is NO protection on that. Always process an invoice for what it is: merchandise. PayPal offers fraud protection on those transactions.
- Checks are a risky proposition. They’re totally safe right until you get screwed by someone. I’ve heard one to many horror stories so I decided not to take the risk.
I wrote a full blog post on how to accept credit cards for those who want a bit more information and other options.
Guestbooks / Sign-in Books
Are you afraid to put out a comment book fearing lots of negative comments? Don’t be! I always put them out & rarely get negavite comments. At every show I bring home books with lots of awesome comments. Comments that give me a tremendous amount of motivation and sheer joy. I save everyone one of my comment books. When I have those ‘dark moments’ where I think I’m a terrible artist, I just flip though one. Darkness vanquished.
Lastly, if you have a sign-in book, be sure to read it regularly! I almost missed a sale once because the person only wrote the request in the guestbook.
YOUR WEBSITE NEEDS TO BE UP TO DATE & AOM READY
Make sure your website is totally up to date. You will see a spike in your web traffic during the show. Check your contact information, insure ALL links are working (use multiple browsers, and computers not in your house if you can), and make sure ALL of the work you have on display at Artomatic is on your website. Ensure that your social media links are correct and visible as well. You should include a page devoted to “how to purchase,” at least in a general sense. If you list prices on your website (you should unless you’re a gallery artist), make sure the prices on your site and at AOM match.
I highly recommend making your site “Artomatic Ready” – gallery artists proceed with caution. I recommend adding a page, or section, to your website for Artomatic visitors. On my site, I create an a page called “On Display At Artomatic.” It has pictures of all the work I have in the show, pricing, and a link to the page on ‘How to Purchase’ (I always have one but I create one specific to AOM during the event). These link to the page(s) should be on your main page.
If you are a gallery artist, on the AOM “on display” page, you should have your prices listed. This page should only be active for the duration of the show (& maybe a few weeks after). If you are not currently under contract with a gallery or dealer, this won’t be a problem (if it is, you’re a point in your career where doing an Artomatic show could also be problematic). If you are under contract, check with your gallery before even registering for the show, then check to see what you can and cannot do with your website.
WHAT NOT TO DO
- DO NO USE PRICE LISTS. Artomatic is NOT a gallery and many of its visitors don’t go to galleries. This means they don’t even realize they’re supposed to look for them. Even more importantly, Artomatic events get very, very crowded so it can be very difficult to see the price list, much less read it. Artists who only use framed lists and business cards assume that the potential patron will remember the title of the piece & which business card is the “right” card for that piece. Even if you have printed price lists, too often artists run out (especially on opening nights & on weekends). People frequently set them down somewhere and forget them. Of the artists who insist on these wastes-of-paper, most do not include photos of their work on them. This means those artists have to hope their clients found a pen to mark the title of the piece they wanted (pens disappear often). There’s a whole lot of hoping and assuming in this paragraph and that translates to lost sales. Don’t miss a sale because someone left their price list in the restroom. Or because you ran out. Or because the person didn’t even see the price list.
- Don’t buy a business card holder made to sit on a desk and think you’re good. I covered this above but just wanted to add it here for those who skipped down to this part. Buying a single, tiny holder will ensure you run out regularly. No cards = no sales if that’s all you have. Get two or three, or make one, or use something that isn’t actually a card holder. In 2013 there were two Artomatic events that overlapped a bit. For the second I used these little wood crates I found at Micheal’s that were just slightly longer than a business card. I cut off the front of each so you could see the cards, painted them and they worked great.
- Don’t put your business cards, sign-in book and other info on a table everyone but a toddler will have to get on their knees to access. This is bad for a lot of reasons. First it is easily missed on a busy night. No one is looking down that far. Second, many people have a hard time getting down there, not only because of physical limitations but because they’re holding a drink, a purse, a kid, etc. Don’t give people valid reasons to leave your info behind. Tables should be, in my opinion, 36″ to 42″ high because those are the standards for kitchen counters and bar tops. I’ve used a variety of things in the past, including a $19 two shelf bookcase from Walmart (it was a bit lower than I like but it worked). Other artists I’ve seen use a shelf, just a piece of wood on two brackets, placed at proper height (just make sure it’s well mounted if you do that).
- Don’t use red dots (or any other color) to mark pieces sold. Red dots are for galleries. If it’s sold, just write SOLD. Every year I hear patrons ask “what’s the red dot mean?” because no one in their right mind would assume a dot of any color means sold. Literally no other business does that.
- When you do sell a piece, I highly recommend that you do NOT mark a piece sold until you actually have the payment. During the 2015 show, I had several pieces on display that technically ‘sold’ in other shows. In each case, I marked the piece sold before the invoice cleared and, well, obviously I still had the pieces. Learn from my fail. (and no, I don’t count those false sales in my final sales counts)
THERE IS NO PROPER WAY TO FOR SOMEONE TO ASK TO BUY YOUR WORK
Years ago, an artist posted on an AOM forum asking if an email she received was a scam or not. Basically the email read: “I saw your work, titled XXXXXX, at AOM. I would like to buy it. How can I do that?” The non-artist in my had to scrape her jaw off the floor. I couldn’t fathom what would make her think that was a scam.
I was even more stunned by a few of the responses her question received. Some of the artists scoffed at the idea that anyone who would ask to buy art that way. Others stated they would refuse any sell to someone who asked like that. Really? I have a BFA, no one told me there was a “proper” way to ask to buy art. I’ve also shown in galleries & no one told me about this “proper” way of asking. If I don’t know the proverbial “secret handshake,” how is anyone else supposed to know??
These artists, and many more like them, completely missed out on sales because a person asked to buy their art in the same way that someone would ask to buy anything else. Don’t let your ego prevent you from selling. Yes there are art scams, this is not what they look like. For the record, most of my sales start with emails like that, and no, I have never been scammed.
Good luck, have fun, and I hope you sell a lot of work!
*If you don’t know the difference between a gallery artist & a self-produced (non-traditional) artist: Read This Article. Starting on page 2, it provides a very concise overview of both including the pros and cons to each path by a seasoned professional in New York City.