Introduction to What Makes Art Sell?
Why is it that some art pieces sell and others don’t? Do you have some artwork that just sings to you but you can’t seem to sell them…In short, What Makes Art Sell?
In this episode, we are going to talk about fundamental questions to ask yourself about why you create so you can better sell your artwork.
The Power of Knowing Why You Paint to Help Your Art Sell?
My first gallery show was in Atlanta at a gallery, I can no longer think of the name, it was about 18 years ago, but it was a cool experience; the gallery owner featured 3 female artists. I got to dress up, drink champagne and talk uncomfortably about art. It was the first time that I was asked by someone — “what inspired you to paint this” (FYI — it was one of 3 in a series of paintings that depicted a still life that I set up and painted during different stages of the evening — at the time I loved painting crystal with lights reflecting with no other light source)…
AND well, to his question “what inspired you to create this piece” I had no idea how to answer him! I painted it because it was pretty and I wanted to (was my first thought), but I made something up that sounded decent on the spot and sounded profound. I sold 2 paintings that night — one of which I didn’t like at all — but you know — whatever floats their boat…the gallery representative was the salesperson….
It was something that stayed with me for years. It wasn’t until 2014 that I understood, WHY I paint subjects now. When I first started painting and showing my artwork I was trying to find something marketable, rather than finding my marketable voice.
What do I mean by that — I focused on what would sell, rather than what I enjoyed.
Back in the day I painted a lot of wine, wine bottles, thoughts behind that were — rich people had at-home-bars and needed wall decor…so the “ why did I paint this piece”- it had no significant meaning to me….and that was the problem and why I couldn’t sell the painting — but Galleries could.
In 2014 I started painting pets, and I absolutely loved it and still do — the first year I painted over 150 pet portraits in a year — I couldn’t get enough of it — the 2nd year, I slowed myself down a bit because I wanted to ensure I was providing quality, not quantity. And the truth is also, I wanted to spend more time with each painting. Sometimes it is really hard for me to let one of the paintings go to its proper home — I developed a connection with the dog or cat…this is why also I’m a total foster failure…. I’m pretty sure you know where I’m coming from on that. I love thinking about the animals’ stories, seeing the looks in their eyes, AND what is super cool is when I see their owner reflected in their eyes!!!
What is interesting to also note is that sometimes buyers even have the perception that I paint pets because of the market. Several years ago I participated as a vendor at a local dog show: I’d set up my pet portrait booth and painted a dog live... I remember hearing some lookers say “that must be a lucrative business” or I’d hear other artists say “I should start painting pets, looks like she’s doing good with it”. Let me tell you, artists, out there — yes Pet Portraits are a good subject to paint for business BUT if you aren’t inwardly driven to paint 30 pets in 30 days then you are not driven by this passion and you’ll end up where you are right now in a JOB instead of what you are passionate about. You need to find your PASSION, which is your reason why.
Your why cannot be a lie…people will spot you and know it, your why may be hard to express, but you have to express it so you and your art pieces are relatable.
When you ask me why I paint military and contract working dogs, or why I paint cats, or why I teach oil painting and coach my fellow artists — my why is so passion-driven I will talk about it with tears in my eyes because of the sheer joy I receive from being and making a difference in peoples lives.
Why do people want to know why you painted ‘this’?
Why do people need to know your Why? It’s sometimes hard to get past this because we think our art should stand on its own merit — but that’s not always the case, nowadays more and more artists are selling online, so your client, or potential client, has to get to know, like and trust you.
You are not an established gallery that has been on the street corner for 30 years, which has advantages and disadvantages — but that is a discussion for another day. The potential buyer has no idea what makes you tick, why you put more cobalt teal in artwork, or that you dream in color, or that you gain inspiration from your seaside strolls…but when you start speaking to that THEN you and your art becomes accessible and relatable.
A couple of years ago I found the power of just talking about a piece of artwork in front of a networking group — the artwork itself was just of a brown paper box with a pretty red ribbon and some berries with garland — the above painting of a Christmas present. It was a 6×6” oil painting on panel and I called it “Every day is a Gift” — when I spoke to the group about several of the paintings just saying what the inspiration was and why I chose to paint it and what the colors meant to me. The lady said everything for her stopped. She had battled for years with chronic pain and heard me talking about the brown paper is dull and lifeless, but sometimes when the mood is right we can dress it up and it becomes a gift, that is the attitude that we must have with our lives — “every day is a gift”. She came up to me after, and I kid you not after she explained why she was drawn to it we were both in tears. She bought it on the spot.
Ok, that’s why you have to have a why….express your why and it cannot be a lie…
Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Artwork
Alright, let’s just dive into the questions to ask yourself to determine why you painted a particular piece. I’ve also included a link in the show notes to art journaling pages so you can go further into what drove you to create that particular piece of artwork and even journal while you are creating the piece.
Finding ‘your why’ sounds simple, but it’s totally not — it’s like Shrek, there are many layers and sometimes when you start peeling back the layers there are some parts that will make you cry. But you can get through it because when you do — you will find the heart of what drives you to create and that will become your selling point.
The good questions you can ask your self are:
- What do you love painting about that subject? “ if the subject in this painting were to be the central character or feature of a story, what would its story be?”
- “what inspired you to paint this”….
- ”what do you want to convey with this painting”
- “how do you want the viewer to feel”
- “where do you want the viewer to focus”….
And then find a way to relay those things in a short story-like manner.
For example, imagine you’ve put together a still life of lilies that are hit with sunlight on a bright table cloth…what would the story be behind the lilies in your life, what do they make you feel, what do the delicate flowers say to you….that is tapping into the emotional aspect of the painting.
Remember this “Logic tells, emotion sells” Logic is the piece is 6×6”, the emotion is your story and how it makes you and the buyer feel.
Your Next Steps to Make Your Artwork Sell
Let me ask you, as an artist, have you ever bought a piece of another artist’s works because of the way that it made you feel? Art that makes the buyer feel is worth more than any color matching piece they can buy from China and the most rewarding part of this business is when someone truly expresses their love of your art and the voice that you gave it!
It is time for you to start expressing your voice with every piece. You can download the art journaling pages today to lay the foundation of what you have to say about your artwork to help you better market your art.
I’m Stephanie Weaver fine art artist and I look forward to chatting again with you next week with more art business tips.
Feel free to post questions or topics you’d like for me to consider in upcoming episodes.
Until next time, stay safe happy, and healthy, AND Happy painting!
Dive in Further
If you want to take a further deep looking into what makes art sell, you need to better understand the person you are marketing to. Available to the members of the Online Artist Community is a course called: “Etsy Marketing Strategy and Tools to discover your Niche”, click here to learn more about the Online Artist Community.