December is here, and it is now officially crunch time to get your holiday shopping completed. As an artist, I have mixed feelings about the holiday season. On one side I make more money at this time of year than any other time. On the other side, I have to work almost every weekend at in-person vending events, such as pop-ups. We sell art primarily through these channels: in person at pop-ups/craft fairs, at galleries, art shows at venues around town, and online.
Vending in person at pop-ups and craft fairs is an interesting opportunity for both the buyer and artist. I get to meet my clients, and can help them find the art they are looking for, or let them know about art pieces I may not have brought with me, but are available on my Etsy shop. In which case, they can pick up the artwork when it is ready a few days later at the studio (if you are lucky, you might get invited in for a home-brew ;). It is a lot of work setting up and taking down the booth, and has to be calculated in to our work day. Most of the time, there is no fee for us to sell at pop-up events, except credit card processing fees, and the cost of a couple beers, if the event is at a brewery. Sometimes breweries waive my tab, which always makes me very happy! Craft fairs charge a few hundred dollars for a booth. By the way, I’ll be selling my art at a pop-up at Anchorage Brewing Co. along with several other local makers on Saturday, December 3, starting at 2pm.
Galleries are a way to work with sales people and meet a larger audience. However, galleries take 40% – 50% commission, which makes sense, since they have brick-and-mortar overhead. After dropping off art to a gallery, the artist doesn’t have to do any work except keep track of what the gallery has and what they will need when something sells. Unfortunately, the gallery only has a certain amount of space, so artists are limited to sell only what the gallery is willing to put on its walls. Galleries have sales people that work to sell the art. This is a major benefit, especially since artists are not always good at selling their own art. I’m very happy to have my art at Dos Manos Gallery!
Art shows at venues like breweries, restaurants, and coffee shops are another way for an artist to reach an audience. This is a bit more than a pop-up, but less than complete gallery representation. It is super fun as an artist to have a reception at your art show. Everyone is there to see the artwork, and that is really rewarding. The artist often has to handle all the sales, if the venue doesn’t want to process art sales, which is a hurdle for the buyer, and leads to fewer sales. Art shows last about a month, so you are committed to that venue for a longer bit of time than a pop-up. Most art show venues don’t care if they sell anything, or not, so you often don’t get a sales person, like yourself at a pop-up, or an employee of a gallery. Sometimes nothing sells at all at an art show venue. Most of the time people go to the venue for the real reason it exists: food at a restaurant, or a haircut at a stylist, or beer at a brewery. Or they go to see your artwork. Most likely, if they are already on an artist’s mailing list, they already have artwork from the artist and may be there to support the artist personally and not to purchase art. My next art show will be at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in January.
Online selling is a good way to sell art. It is also very challenging, but if done correctly, can be quite profitable. You can sell direct from your website, this requires expensive web hosting, and secure checkout. SEO is a problem with that. There are a few other online venues: Etsy is one of the best, but there is also Fine Art America, iCanvas, Redbubble, and Deviantart. The listings are time consuming and require a keen eye for detail. Art purchasers don’t like to see typos in a listing — it makes them feel that the artist is careless. There is often a lot of communication before a sale is made, and if it isn’t handled correctly, the sale is lost. It is tedious to manage an online site for art sales. Some of these websites require the artist to make and mail all the art, like Etsy. Other sites, like RedBubble, or Fine Art America print all the merchandise, and mail it. But these sites take a much bigger cut for those services. Buying art online is really easy, you can do it from your phone, however, it is hard to tell what you will receive. This is fine when ordering a t-shirt from Redbubble, but a bit disconcerting to the purchaser when buying expensive originals, or fragile pieces. We just sold an original painting to a client in France, and I was really proud of the Real Art Is Better team, that my artwork was being shipped all the way to the cultural center of Europe. We’re offering a 20% discount, and free domestic shipping right now at our Etsy shop for a limited time.
We use all of these methods to sell art. And I find pop-ups to be the most work, but also the most profitable, especially when I am at a brewery. Not so much when I am vending at a craft fair, because there’s more competition from other vendors, and beer art is not everyone’s cup of tea. Galleries are good because they get the word out to art collectors, and help with establishing your brand, and the gallery does all the work. Art shows are fun, especially at the reception when the artist is honored, but most often you only sell a small percentage of what has been hung, and it is a lot of work moving artwork around and taking it back down. Online is a lot of setup and a ton of work when it comes to packing and mailing, or requires faith in the offsite production of reproduced items. We find that all these methods are working to keep our business running. All have their pros and cons. It’s a matter of getting it all out there, whatever the method.