There are many different avenues one can choose to make income with their photography, but the one I am going to discuss here, in a multi-part series of posts, deals with selling your photography directly to collectors. This is primarily how I have made my income over the past seven years, working both in galleries who represented my work, and as an artist-in-residence at art shows. Early on my photographic journey, I decided this was the path that I wanted to focus my attention on – that of a fine artist, so I gained employment at a gallery and began learning the business and how to sell. A few years later, I found myself in a situation where I was an art consultant/gallery director at a gallery that represented my works alongside six or seven other artists. This was my first taste at selling my own artwork in a gallery setting. A few years later, that gallery closed due to the economic hit of ’08/’09 and I moved back to my old home base of Maui. Within a year of moving back, I again found a situation where I was able to be hired on as an art consultant and represented as an artist. This situation can be good for both the gallery and artist, and so therefore may not be as difficult to line-up as you may think. I’ll explain:
WORKING AS BOTH ART CONSULTANT & ARTIST – GALLERY SETTING
Once you have learned how to sell, finding a situation where you work at a gallery that also represents your work can be a potentially very good situation, and work well for both the gallery and the artist. If you have any proven selling success, or can otherwise convince the gallery that you are motivated to sell, it can be beneficial, from their perspective and yours. Here are some benefits from both perspectives:
- Benefits to the Gallery
- •Good sales staff can be challenging to find and to keep.
- •The gallery can trust that you’ll likely be much more motivated to sell since your work is being represented, and therefore your income relies on it.
- •Having “the artist” present to discuss and communicate directly with prospective collectors is a B I G plus and can help be that extra push to close deals.
- •You bring a certain expertise that other art consultants do not, as the artist that creates the work and now, as the artist that sells the work.
- Benefits to the Artist
- •You get an outlet for your work, and an opportunity to meet and sell directly to your collector.
- •You can make a double-income! When you sell your work, you get the commission as an art consultant and you get paid for the art as the artist. This alone can make the situation very worthwhile, especially in any gallery situation that does well selling your work.
- •You learn and become better at sales on someone else’s dime.
Here are few potential drawbacks from both perspectives as well:
- Drawbacks to the Gallery
- •Galleries will always be protective of their collector-base and may be worried about you poaching clients to later work with on the side. This generally would be a quick demise of the situation for you. It’s important to act professionally and resist this temptation, even while the occasional prospect will try and lure you into working directly with them.
- •Some gallery owners may be concerned that you’ll focus primarily on your work and not other artists. Other owners may be fine with this, as long as you are selling. In my opinion, as an art consultant, you should try not to steer the prospective buyer to your work. Wait patiently for your people, then work diligently to sell them when you have interest. In the meantime, sell other artists work – it’s good practice, good karma, and keeps the selling momentum rolling.
- Drawbacks to the Artist
- •Galleries may not want to pay you a proper or normal salary, due to the fact that you are getting paid two ways. This is irrelevant, and the artist must demand the same art consultant wages and commissions as is normal for the staff.
- •This situation can easily become your primary focus and full-time job, and ultimately be – all your eggs in one basket. This is not optimal for a number of reasons: gallery may decide to take advantage of you, or sales slow-or-stop. It’s always best to try and have multiple streams of income.
These above points are some things to consider about selling your work directly to collectors, through the gallery setting. If you have ever dreamed of having your own gallery, this path is a must. You must learn the gallery business and how to sell. (You can read here how I initially got started and my foot in the door to selling in galleries.)
WORKING AS BOTH ART CONSULTANT & ARTIST – ART FAIR SETTING
Selling in a gallery is totally different than selling at an art fair, weekend art festival, or as an artist-in-residence. Completely different. You can not rely on selling at an art fair to help prepare you for selling in a gallery, and vice versa – they are two separate animals. I had years experience in the gallery before I began selling as an artist-in-residence at the Four Seasons Wailea here on Maui nearly 3 years ago. I walked into that situation feeling very confidant that I had the necessary experience, and therefore some sort of advantage to selling and being successful. I quickly learned that I was sorely mistaken and had to essentially relearn how to sell in this environment. I am still amazed after all this time at just how different it is than selling in a gallery. Here are some of the main points of difference:
- Differences Between Gallery Sales and Art Fair Sales
- •Time. This is, in my opinion, the primary difference and what makes selling so different in these two settings. In a gallery, you take your time and cover many things while leading to a sale. The longer you take with a prospective buyer, the higher success rate you have, typically. A sale in a gallery may take me 45 minutes to well over an hour. As an artist-in-residence or in the art fair setting, you are lucky to get 10-15 minutes! 30 minutes of someone’s time is extremely rare. That’s just the way it is – your tactics become very different. I personally find it to be much more challenging to sell art in 10-15 minutes.
- •Regardless of how great and beautiful and dynamic and exclusive your work may be – if you are selling it in an open space at an art show or weekend art festival, then there is a certain amount of undermining-to-your-art taking place with the customers, whether it is conscious or not. Just a fact. Likewise, regardless of how pedestrian, mediocre, or common your artwork may (or may not) be, in a gallery, there is a certain strengthening-to-your-art taking place.
- •Art Fairs and the like are a lot more work! – but for more pay. For an art fair, you typically have to bring all the art, easels, lights, etc and set the entire display up, and then break it all down at the end of the day, while transporting it all both ways and storing it all in-between shows. It can be a ridiculous amount of work. But, nowadays 50-50 exchanges with galleries are rare, so figure you’re gonna give away 60% (sometimes more!?!?) of retail to a gallery, while an art fair may only be 25%, or less. This is a world of difference on a 2k sale!
You can see some of the Pro’s and Con’s to both the gallery setting and the art fair setting. In my experience, I have had highs and lows in both streams. There is no better/worse, they are just very different ways of selling the work. I might venture to say that during my success times of selling on my own through the artist-in-residence program that I am in, that I found it to be more rewarding than the success times of the gallery, but that is likely because I, the artist, end up with the bulk of the sale and therefore am able to make a fair profit. It was always a bit disturbing to see a piece of mine sell in a gallery for $3k, only to see I made $400 at the end of the day. But, then again, if I were in that gallery and had sold that piece myself, then suddenly the numbers can work out to be quite good.
Ultimately, I find it very rewarding working with and meeting prospective buyers and collectors of my work. I am so grateful for each piece of art that I sell and I always feel that I am best able to express that to the collector – so it should be me making the sale. I also think that many of my collectors appreciate meeting me and getting to know a bit about the work, and the artist, and working directly with the artist from beginning to end.
So, that seems like a good start to this topic.
In PART TWO to HOW TO SELL PHOTOGRAPHY – WORKING DIRECTLY WITH COLLECTORS I will discuss the dialogue, sales strategies, and various steps involved toward closing the deal.