If you are just starting out with your art you may be wondering how to get your paintings in front of the public.
Things have change a lot since I started out, there was no internet for a start, (Cue Granddaughter aghast, “What did you do without Google”), well we had to travel and put ourselves in the front of potential customers.
Now I know selling on the internet is a marvellous system but there are a lot of things you need to do for that to work and I will cover that in another section. For now I want to look at more basic ways for people to see your work.
I will explain what I did to get started and see if you can look into this yourself.
I had just started to paint for a living but I needed to find a way to show my work. I was getting some commissions from word of mouth but not enough to keep going so this is my route that you can maybe gain some information from.
Every Saturday morning I went to the local market and stood in line until I was given a permanent stall. I then set out my paintings propping some up at the back using books. In the front I displayed miniature paintings, remember I only had originals at that time so I spent nights painting little 4″ by 3″ local scenes. Now this suddenly placed my art in front of people who were out visiting the market for clothes, books, and food etc. and they started taking interest in the paintings. I sold some and also took orders to be picked up the following week. This worked fine and I would get regular customers who would tell their friends where they bought the lovely paintings on their walls.
I did get a lot of “Dead dogs” orders as well but it was paid work and kept me going. I eventually did three markets a week which got me more exposure.
Now I don’t know how popular markets are near you but it is a good way to get going.
Now this is something I set up myself and could be a way to try. I would visit a local village and take photos of the area and any nice looking houses. No iPhones then so had to wait for the photos to be delivered. I then did paintings from the photos and prepared for an exhibition. This involved hiring the village hall for the weekend, then leaflet dropping every house the week before with a special note if their house was featured. I also took along other more generic paintings. It was quite amazing how many people visited the hall and I had a lot of sales plus commissions to paint someone’s house I hadn’t covered.
I continued to do this for a number of years and always did well though I might have ran out of villages if I had carried on. I even returned to some villages every now and then and it still went well
Now I know this is a lot of work when nowadays you can stick them on Etsy or something but people still like to see live work and touch it.
You can carry this further by hiring a stand at County shows and village fetes, it’s all about recognition and you may get some great sales as well. It was doing one of these shows that brought Derek Parnaby to my stand, he was the owner of Whitworth Hall, birthplace of Bonnie Bobby Shafto.
He bought two of my paintings then asked me to paint some scenes from the grounds of his home. This led onto him giving me the use of the hall to put on a full exhibition, which he promoted and laid on refreshments for guests, of which there were many resulting in good sales.
So you see being seen can lead to greater things.
But now I want to deal with some pitfalls you may come across, and we have experienced quite a few of these.
There will always be someone looking for an opportunity to make money from your endeavours, be it a local coffee house, a person on a stand next to you ( from experience) or even a gallery owner.
The amount of people who told me they could sell my art for me and give me more exposure run into quite a list, all are very enthusiastic and only want a percentage of the commissions they make. Not one of them lasted very long before I had to go and retrieve my work, you see they are not you, people want a connection to you the artist, not some bloke who doesn’t know what he is talking about. You need to put yourself into people’s faces.
Next are the coffee shops or offices where they will do you a favour and let you display your paintings on the wall where their customers will see them and fall over themselves to purchase one. All you are doing is decorating their wall for free, and even if you sell one then you have to replace it with another piece. Multiply this by a few shops and you have a lot of stock hanging around. If someone thinks your work is good let them pay for it upfront, don’t be flattered they want your work, ask for payment. We had a large coffee house in Durham where we made that mistake because the guy was so persuasive and said he was opening more shops. At first we had some sales but gradually getting money from him was difficult, and then one day we went to Durham and it was closed and our paintings gone.
Sometimes a gallery will say they like your work and would like to show your art, they will tell you they are giving you more exposure but they still want your paintings for nothing. Most of these galleries charge at least 50% commission so you may get half the money, minus the cost of framing and your art materials, and your picture will hang alongside lots of others in the same boat. Don’t get me wrong, if it’s a prestigious gallery you probably will get good exposure but be aware they will want you to stay in the same formula of art that interested them in the first place. I may sound down about this but believe me I have been through all this, and at one gallery I lost all my originals and was left with a fourteen thousand pound overdraft to cover my losses.
On the brighter side the best way of selling for me was on the Exhibition circuit where I travelled all over the UK as well as The Channel Islands and Dublin. I did this for many years and made good friends at these shows until Lynn and I opened our gallery. I will tell you more tales about this in another blog.
The thing is to be wary of who you deal with and make sure you retain control over your art work.