I have announced an “immersive” photo workshop that will be held in San Francisco this summer, August 10th and 11th, 2013. San Francisco is one of my favorite places to photograph, and I am excited for this unique opportunity to work with 2-3 participants during an exciting photography-filled weekend. We will focus our efforts on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, dramatic cityscape images, city night images, and more. More information is HERE.
For the past 6 months or more, I have been putting myself out there quite a lot and working with people individually in personalized photography workshops here at my home base of Maui. I’ve gotta say, after years of dealing primarily with people in relation to selling artwork, I am really enjoying working with earlier-on-the-path photographers and passing on my knowledge, thoughts, perspectives and skills. I never really pre-visualized myself as a “teacher”, but I’m diggin’ it! So much so, that I am taking my act on the road. I am excited to announce a 3-day intensive workshop for the passionate photographer in my ol’ stomping grounds of La Jolla California. I spent 4 years there shooting essentially a three mile stretch of coast, which resulted in a big turn of direction in my work, leading to more personal and expressive images – many of which became award winners. Anyways, I am stoked! I can’t wait to head back there, after over 3 years of being away, and working with a small group of 4-6 people and passing on some important skills and perspectives. If you are interested, or if you know someone who may be, you can check out the details HERE.
It’s 4:30am. Crazy to think that I’ve already been awake for over an hour – not that I’m thinking, and not that I’m really awake! But here I am, at Isaac Hale State Park on the Big Island of Hawaii with 20 other walking zombies that look a lot like sleepy tourists, all anxious and curious by the adventure that awaits us.
Captain Shane Turpin and crew of two pull up alongside our gathered group of sleepwalkers in a big truck, towing an awkward looking passenger boat hitched on a trailer. After some curt dialogue about the what-and-what-not’s to our impending trip, we climb a ladder and board the boat. The driver then drives us down to the boat ramp, backs us in to the water, and before we know it, we are free from the trailer and moving out past the breakers into the dark sea.
I have my pack full of camera gear with two layers of water resistant protection at my feet. I’m wearing a fleece and and a raincoat, which keeps me warm in the surprisingly cool morning and does well enough keeping me dry against the waves that are continuously splashing and blowing into the boat and in my face. My shorts are soaked. I feel like a Navy Seal going out on a special night mission, but keep getting pulled back to reality by the chitter-chatter of over-talkative tourists. Isn’t O-dark-early a time for quiet? I wonder to myself, curious as to how some people can never be still and silent.
45 minutes-to-an-hour later, we arrive at our destination – New Earth, in the form of hot molten lava flowing steadily into the Pacific Ocean, splendidly steaming and smoking and wonderfully beautiful. Captain Shane maneuvers the boat with effortless ease, to within yards of the lava. I feel the radiance on my face and legs, and within minutes, the glowing heat dries my wet shorts. The lava meets the sea at a number of different spots along a 1/4 mile stretch of coast. In some spots, the thick fiery substance slowly drops into the water, and in other spots it’s gushing, as if it is being pumped out of the earth. It is totally awesome to view this spectacle in the dark of night!
As wonderful as it is to the eyes, attempting to photograph hot molten lava in the dark of night from a moving boat in a rough sea, is completely futile. I practice patience and wait for the light of a coming sunrise to illuminate the scene while enjoying the moment – which to my delight, has proven to be so powerful of a scene that it has rendered some silence from the tourists. Amen!
Before too long, the light of day takes over the darkness and I am able to start working with the camera. The Captain slowly runs the boat parallel to the coast so the passengers on one side are able to view and photograph, then turns back the other way allowing the others the spectacular view. With this method, you are face to face with the amazing sight, or looking out to sea and the setting of a crescent moon. During the 5-minute periods of looking out to sea, I review my images and quickly adjust my settings to better capture this dynamic scene. In the end, there’s probably not more than 10 minutes of optimal light to shoot images while being face to face with the lava.
One aspect of concern is that half-a-dozen times, we are completely immersed in the gaseous fumes spewing out of the planet. Just 2 days ago, I was told by a guide while hiking into the lava flow on foot, “Don’t breathe that smoke and gas – it will kill you.” I also remember reading online in my research that it is very dangerous to breathe. Apparently, I am the only one on this boat that has been told this or read this in my research! The Captain obviously does not seem concerned, and every time we are immersed in smoke and gas, I am the only one aboard that responds by burying my face and eyes into a relatively protective cocoon I’ve formed inside my fleece and raincoat. On the occasion I peer out, my eyes burn and I quickly burrow back into my cocoon. These periods are fleeting, maybe 30-45 seconds at a time, and it’s easy enough to cover up, but it still leaves me wondering, how harmful is this? If not for me on this one-time experience, then for the Captain and his crew who do this multiple times daily?
Morning has broken, the sweet light is fading, and we make our final pass by the lava before heading back to our starting point. The seas are a little rougher now, but no one seems to mind much, buzzed with the high of a spectacular experience freshly emblazoned in heart and mind. To see Mother Nature creating more land, New Earth, right in front of my eyes…what an insanely incredible experience!
CHECK OUT THE ENTIRE PORTFOLIO TITLED NEW EARTH HERE
The photo workshop side of my business is growing all of the time and Maui Photo Expeditions has been a lot of fun so far. I am looking to expand some trips outside of Maui and would love to get over to the Big Island more, so will be actively planning group trips over there. In the meantime, if you are visiting the Big Island of Hawaii and would like to discuss a personalized one-on-one workshop like I provide here on Maui, please Contact Me. I am happy to island-hop over! See details to my Maui Photo Expeditions HERE.
God, I hope so!
A number of times lately I have fielded phone calls and emails from prospective buyers who were previously looking at Lik’s work, but were turned off for one reason or another and began looking elsewhere. It seems, one can hope, that these potential photography buyers are becoming more savvy to some of the selling tactics employed by the Lik Galleries, and beginning to question the absurd pricing structure for the not-very limited editions of 950.
I certainly don’t have any issue with artists offering large editions of 950 or more prints, or even offering Open Editions with no preset limit. Ansel and his contemporaries didn’t limit their prints to a preset edition. Christopher Burkett, who in my opinion is the Ansel-of-today, doesn’t limit his prints to a preset edition. Much of my own work is comprised of relatively large editions of 250 or 450.
In PART ONE of this topic, I discussed possible directions of selling your photography and working directly with collectors, and some of the pros and cons to the various avenues. In PART TWO, I went into some depth about the artist-client exchanges and offered some sales strategies and techniques to assist in closing deals. Here, in PART THREE and the closing segment to this discussion, I will finalize some thoughts regarding our interactions with potential collectors, and go into what comes after we have had our exchange with a prospective buyer, or hopefully – a new collector!
After Part Two, I received a number of emails from you with various comments and questions, and was happy to receive some comments by some notable photographers. I am happy that the information is useful and appreciated. One such email read, “Your second article on salesmanship is idealistic at best when it comes to art fairs. It would be nice to individually welcome everyone who comes into my booth, but when three or four different people arrive at the same time, personal attention is not possible. And repeating the same quick intro four or five times makes me feel like a car salesman. Any suggestions for handling a group of customers, other than making sure everyone is given a business card?”
Here was my response:
You have read PART ONE of this conversation, now let’s discuss some of the dialogue, sales strategies, and various steps involved in selling your photography to collectors. Although there may be other avenues where you could find this situation of artist-collector sales, we will focus on that of a gallery setting, and of an art show setting. As mentioned in part one of this topic, these two outlets are quite different in that your time is very limited in an art show setting, therefore your approach will be a bit different than that of a gallery. We will discuss some of these differences, but regardless of the setting, there are a couple things that will remain a constant and that should act as the motivating foundation of everything you do in regards to selling your work.
- • Art does not sell itself.
- • There is no time like the present.
First, art does not sell itself. If you were to open a gallery and simply sat at the desk and waited for people to come in, look around, and excitedly come to you and say “I’ll take it!”, then rest assured, your gallery won’t last long. Art does not sell itself, salespeople sell art. Now, for many artists, this is difficult to swallow and it’s probably safe to say that most artists weren’t born salespeople, but if you’re still with this article after part one, then maybe you are interested in selling your work or already find yourself in this setting. I certainly was not born a salesperson and found it quite challenging until I found my groove with it, and at the end of the day, I really no longer even feel that what I do is sales – but of course it is, and like anything, there are certain techniques and strategies. Firstly, you must understand that art won’t sell itself and that you need to be proactively selling it.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there is no time like the present. Art for most people most of the time is an emotional purchase. It is not like going to the store to buy a sweater where you look around until you find one that you like and then purchase it. More often than not, collectors of artwork happen to just stumble upon a piece of art that they have an emotional response to. It is in this initial response that you’re likeliness to sell the art is at it’s highest. By far! In the gallery business, we call customers who leave without purchasing be-backs, because everybody always says “I’ll be back.” You will hear this a million times while selling your artwork. And what you’ll find 99% of the time, is that be-backs do not come back. It’s just reality. You can not hope to make a living with be-backs. Now, once you recognize and understand this, then it acts as the motivating foundation of your exchanges with prospective buyers of your artwork.
Climbing the Triangle
I look at the exchange with a prospect-leading-to-a-sale in the form of a triangle. When the prospect first walks in to the gallery or steps into your space at an art show, you are at the bottom of this triangle and there are many variables and directions that things can go. Your goal is to get to the top of the pyramid, which is when you’d shake hands and collect a credit card. Everything you do between these two points should be within the triangle and be leading to that one point, otherwise you are working against yourself and getting off track. Essentially, you are climbing a ladder of yes’s until there is no place else to go. With each yes, you get higher in the triangle, and with each no, a step down. If you are talking about your Aunt’s apple pie with no direction, then you are entirely outside the triangle and are getting nowhere. Given that your time with the prospect is limited, you should remain mindfully climbing the triangle towards a sale.
Basic Steps Towards a Sale
The basic steps towards making a sale are:
- • Introduction
- • Covering the facts
- • Asking questions
- • Eliminating objections
- • Asking for the sale
- In a Gallery
- Introduction. Assuming you are not the only artist whose work is being exhibited in the gallery, your introduction should be something like this: Hi there. Welcome to X Gallery. This is a collection of a number of different landscape photographers from all over the country. Take your time and enjoy the work. My name is Scott if you have any questions. Then release your energy from them and step away. Continue to keep a string-of-attention attached to them the entire time, but be very subtle about it. By offering a short and sweet introduction and then seemingly releasing them, they will feel instantly more relaxed. This entire dance is very sensitive – when things are done mindfully and are flowing, it’s all good, but it does not take much to throw the whole thing off. For example, after your introduction you stay standing and staring at them. Now the visitors are now very uncomfortable, ruining any chance of a potential art sale.
- Covering the Facts. You introduced the visitors to the gallery and then seemingly released your energy to allow them to look around. Subtly, you have maintained your string-of-attention to them and are now patiently waiting for an opportune moment to step back in with some energy. It could have been 30 seconds after the introduction, or it could be 5 minutes, it totally depends on the prospect and it is up to the art consultant to read their body language and energy to determine when this opportune time is. When you reengage, you begin to educate the prospect with facts about the work, with enthusiasm, and begin to build excitement toward the work. This artist is Artist X. He works primarily with an old school large format camera and shoots primarily at night time under a full moon, that is how he is able to have such clarity to the images and why they appear somewhat surreal and have a blue tone to them.
- You’ll want to dip in and out with your energy, stepping away and coming back in – again, this will help them to feel at ease and allow them time to find something and connect with it. In a gallery with a viewing room, you will want to take a piece off the wall and take it into the viewing room. All the while, you are enthusiastically dropping more nuggets-of-information regarding the artwork, educating them as to what it is they are viewing.
- “Covering the facts” could also be called “building value”. It is with these facts that you are laying down that is leading up to the cost of the artwork. If you do a good job in covering the facts, or building value, then by the time you get to price and offer them the cost for the artwork, you may hear “Is that all…I thought it’d be more.” On the other hand, if you have not done a good job in laying down the facts, you may hear, “Wow, that’s expensive.” You have a much greater chance of selling the piece and are much further up the triangle when you get the former response. Do a good job going through the points and laying down the facts regarding the artwork, the artist, the materials, the romance – it is in this that you build the value to the art.
- Asking Questions. Throughout the dialogue, you will begin to ask questions. You need to garner an understanding of the prospects tastes, likes and dislikes, style of decor at home, and anything else that will help you get further up the triangle. Here are a number of great questions:
- *Would this artwork work well in your home?
- *Do you have any spots in your home for a piece like this?
- *What do you think of this color?
- *Do you have any photography in your art collection?
- *Do you collect artwork?
- *Do you like the way this piece is framed?
- *What do you think of the mood in this piece?
- *Where in your home would you hang a piece like this?
- With each question you ask, there are generally just a few possible responses, and you will be comfortable with any possible direction it may take. For example, you ask, “Do you have any photography in your art collection?” There are only going to be a few common responses: “No. I mostly have paintings.” “Yes, actually I have a Steve McCurry print I purchased in New York.” Or, “I don’t really collect art. I mean, I have some things on the wall, but I wouldn’t call myself an art collector.” You make any possible reply work for you and move forward. “Paintings! Nice. We have many first time photography collectors. You might like Photographer X photographs who’s work is very soft and painterly.” Or, “Steve McCurry! Awesome! I love his work too. You might like Photographer’s X photographs.”
- Always stay positive. You climb the ladder with yes’s and that is what you are after. Many of these questions are meant to put the prospect in-their-home, in-their-mind. If you can achieve this and the prospect is visualizing the piece hanging on the wall in their home, then you are doing very well and getting closer to that one-point.
- Eliminating Objections. Objections are essentially any no that the prospect may have. In order to get to the top of the triangle, it is your job to overcome any objections. There are two ways to go about this: wait for them to arise and then overcome, or better yet, overcome them before they arise. There are common objections that people have and when you can overcome them before they arise, you are doing very well. The most common objections are:
- *Size – need to measure.
- *Don’t have a suitable spot to hang piece.
- *Want to see all possibilities before committing to a piece.
- *Frame style not to my liking.
- Just as with the questions, you can go down any path this may take and make it work. All of these can be easily overcome and again, ideally before they come up. Why the emphasis on before? When you wait until objections come up and then come back with a solution, you create this back-and-forth energy where you keep topping their issue. When you already laid down your solution to their objection earlier when speaking of the facts, their objection either doesn’t come up at all because you already overcame it, or if it does come back, you can remind them of the solution mentioned earlier. Etherically, it’s a much softer approach and ultimately more effective.
- Early in your presentation you say, “These photographs all come in a number of different sizes and frame styles. We custom make each piece for each collector. Once the piece is finished, it’s professionally packed, shipped fully insured and delivered to your home anywhere in the world.” With this seemingly simple 10 second offering, you have potentially overcome a number of different objections that can come up: size issues, frame styles, shipping. And, you subtly said “your home” which reinforces “ownership” over a piece of art.
- Asking for the Sale. You’ve enthusiastically covered the facts, eliminated objections, and have the prospect visualizing this piece hanging above their sofa. You’ve helped them determine the optimal size and frame, and everything is all good. Then the prospect gets up and walks out of the gallery. What happened?! You didn’t ask for the sale. Every person in sales has had this happen to them. Asking for the sale is an important part of making the sale. Choosing the optimal time to ask for the sale is key. Not only do you need to climb your way to the top of the triangle, but you need to recognize when you are at the top and it is at this time that you ask, “Would you like to go-ahead and purchase this piece for your home?” If you ask too early, you’ll likely get a no. If you wait too long, you’ll likely talk yourself out of the sale and drop back down the other side. The timing needs to be right. This happens when you’ve got all the yes’s and the energy is at it’s peak.
- It can be challenging for early-on-the-path salespeople to ask for the sale, but look at it this way – This prospect loves the piece and it really resonates with them. They have a spot, love the size and frame style and can totally picture it in their house. You have spent an hour working with them to get to this point, assisting them in making an art purchase for their home. If you don’t ask for the sale, you are giving the prospect a total disservice. You are obliged to ask for the sale and to try and close the deal. They will thank you later when they have a beautiful piece of art on the wall! If an objection comes up, then it means you aren’t there yet and there’s something more that you need to cover. No problem. There’s no hurry. Move on. But, when you get to that sweet spot at the top of the triangle, don’t be scared to ask for the sale – do your job, offer impeccable service and assist the prospect in becoming a collector of the art.
- Now, you may have noticed that I did not ever discuss you as “Artist” while selling in the gallery. I didn’t say in the gallery introduction, “Hi, welcome to the gallery. I am one of the artists. My work is over here.” If you are selling in a gallery with other artists, then I think you should be very specific when and how you use yourself as Artist. Really, you should allow people to get-on-a-thing and find a piece they resonate with on their own. If it’s your artwork, then good, but you’ll still want to find an opportune time to drop I’m the Artist. If your timing is wrong, then the entire exchange gets sidetracked and now they’re asking all kinds of questions about being a photographer. Talking about yourself or your journey may be healthy for the ego, but it doesn’t necessarily do well in selling art. Art is an emotional purchase based on energy. Use your I’m the Artist timing very specifically to boost the energy at that particular time. Many times, I have been 45 minutes or more into talking with prospective buyers about one of my pieces when I dropped I’m the Artist for the first time, and when done at an optimal time and in the right way, then it can be smooth sailing right to the finish line and asking for the sale. The prospects are always shocked and thrilled to find this out and may ask, “Why didn’t you tell us?” You can humbly say, “I like for it to be about the artwork…and about you. It’s not about me.” And, that is what it should be about! It’s not about you and fueling your ego. Your goal is to sell the work. As the Artist, you have an advantage, the advantage to be able to drop I’m the Artist at the opportune time to help fuel the ether and get the deal done. Choose your timing carefully.
- If you are working at a gallery as the sole artist, I’d still probably follow this above strategy. I believe it would serve you better than, “Hi, welcome to the gallery. I’m the Artist!” Drop it at an opportune time to help build upon what you’re already doing. Otherwise, you may spend all day talking about yourself and not getting anywhere in regards to sales.
- At an Art Show
- Although the foundation to selling and the steps listed above are the same in an art show or art fair as to that of a gallery, it all becomes super-consolidated and has to be done in a fraction of the time. And, of course you are representing yourself as the Artist selling your artwork.
- Introduction. Your introduction will be different and you’ll want to take advantage of dropping some facts from the get-go. “Hi there. This is some of my photography. Most of the images are from here on Maui, with a few from elsewhere. I custom make each piece for each collector and ship these all over the world.”
- If in a gallery setting a typical sale takes 45 minutes to well over an hour, in an art show setting, you can consider yourself lucky to get 15 minutes or more by prospective buyers. This means that instead of asking direct questions like, “Do you have a nice spot at home for a piece like this?” at the 30 minute mark, now you are asking at the 3 minute mark. You have to be much more diligent about staying within the triangle. Viewers and prospective collectors may try and ask you questions that are ultimately outside the realm of selling and the triangle, but just quickly cover it and get back to moving forward. For example, someone asks you, “What kind of camera do you use? It must be a fancy one.” This can be a relatively common question-statement, but this kind of talk is deadly for selling. The fact is, tech-talk kills the romance and with no romance, you’ve got no art sales happening. Remember, emotional purchase. That means energy and romance – nothing will kill that juice quicker than a 5 minute talk about what kind of camera you use. Cover it briefly and get right back to talking about the work, laying down some facts, and asking questions. “Oh, I actually have used a number of different cameras and formats over the years. Much of my collection has been shot with film – old school mechanical cameras that don’t even require batteries. Like this image here – this is one of my most popular images, was captured just a few miles from here…” You answer the question without specifics, add some romance and energy, bring it back to now and to the local area.
- Selling at an Art Show requires you to be much more direct and to-the-point. With less time, it can be much more challenging, but on the flip-side – if art purchases are an emotional purchase and it’s all about the energy, then oftentimes it can be beneficial to have less time. Less time can consolidate all this energy and create a more dynamic purchasing atmosphere than you’d find in a gallery.
Common Dialogue Between Prospect and Artist
Selling artwork is a very organic process and each exchange is unique and different, primarily due to our different personality types. With that said, much of what is discussed is quite similar from prospective buyer to prospective buyer. Here are some common questions, objections or concerns that people have, and where you can go with it:
- • Prospect: “I’m gonna to think about it.”
- This is a very common thing for people to say before they walk away. If you are doing your job properly, you should never have someone walk-away without knowing what the objection was, and had made an attempt to overcome it. Granted, there are times when you simply will not overcome and make it happen. Move on. But, the worse thing is when you get close with someone, then they say they want to think about it and they walk, and you have no idea why. Perhaps it was something small that you could have easily righted for them. Maybe it was the difference in $100 in cost that you would have been happy to bend on price. Therefore, you should make every effort to find out what’s really going on.
- • Artist: “I totally understand. Just so I know I’m best serving you, and if you don’t mind me asking, what is it you’d like to think about?”
- Many times, if they are not a serious prospective buyer, they are simply saying this to get away. You’ll likely find out with this response. If they are serious, likely they’ll give you a reason and then you can try and solve their concerns.
- • Prospect: “Can I look at these on a website and order once I get home?”
- Again, a very common question, and again, this could be someone who is not serious that is just trying to get away, but it may be a serious prospective buyer who doesn’t understand how unlikely it is that they’d go home and purchase online – you need to determine which it is.
- • Artist: “Yes, I have a website with all of my collection available for viewing. Yes, it is possible to order on the website, but be mindful that images on the website are 4 inches wide and certainly don’t translate the same as these big pieces that you see here. If you are seriously considering the work, I encourage you to take some time now while you are here in person to try and make a decision. Which one of these is your favorite? Do you have a spot for a piece like this?”
- Try and get a little more information and figure out if they are really serious or not. If they are seriously considering a piece, then it’s worth explaining further and adding:
- “I’ve been selling artwork for some time and have found that people don’t buy artwork when they aren’t looking at it. If you can’t decide when you’re looking at the real thing, it’s tough to expect yourself to be able to make a decision from home, looking at a 4 inch picture on a computer screen? The reality is it is rare for people to make art purchases online.”
- I use this approach often and many times, I find serious purchasers understand the logic, slow down, and make a decision. I always try and be as open and honest with prospects as I can. Explain to them how people don’t buy later. Explain how art is an emotional purchase and that a decision has to be made while in front of the work with that energy. Tell them the facts. The facts are: 99% of the time, people don’t come back, they don’t buy later, they don’t go home and purchase online – it just doesn’t happen. Explain sensitively. If the prospect is having difficulty committing to a larger piece, and I have already gone through this above dialogue, I might try:
- “I have found that my collectors who already own a piece are able to later add-on to their collection and purchase more work. It’s much easier when you already have a piece at home that you are looking at. Maybe it would be best if you were to start your collection now with one of these smaller pieces, then later you could add-on the larger one for above the sofa.” I have had a lot of success with this as well, and again, I think it looks out for the best interest of the collector – making a decision now while in front of the artwork ensures that they actually do become a collector, and having the time to consider further the larger, more prime pieces for later. And, of course it’s good for you – making a sale now as opposed to having them walk without making a commitment.
- • Prospect: “I love this piece, but I’m not sure it’s the right size for the spot I have.”
- • Artist: “I totally understand – most people don’t travel with their wall dimensions! This is actually a common issue and I can make it real easy on you. Let’s determine a ‘safe’ size that you know would fit. We’ll write up the order and you’ll purchase that smaller size now, but I won’t get started on the piece until you get home and measure and confirm with me. Once you measure, we can determine the best size and change the order and settle the difference as necessary. This is the best and safest way for you – you’ll be making a decision while you’re here looking at the piece, but can have total peace-of-mind that the piece will be the optimal size. How does that sound?”
- I think this is the perfect solution for most people with this concern. If you are serious about purchasing the piece, this option will work well for you. If you are not serious, then you’ll likely come up with some other reason to go. Why people need to pretend to be into something when they really have no intention of purchasing – I will never know, but that too is very common and just comes with the territory.
- Also, learn the general sizes of pieces of furniture so when these talks come up regarding size, you can confidently help direct them to the optimal choice.
- • Prospect: “I love your work, but can’t afford this.”
- Oddly enough, this is often said by people before any mention of pricing! Therefore, this can be a number of other things, but if it’s honestly about pricing, I find this easy enough to respond to:
- • Artist: “I have work in a price range for nearly everybody with pieces starting at $350 for finished and shipped pieces. Would that be in your price range?”
- • Prospect: “No. I can’t afford that either.”
- • Artist: “No problem. I appreciate that my work resonates with you. Leave me your email and I’ll put you on my mailing list. That way you can follow my work over time. Also, I offer 4 specials a year with pieces starting at $100, and will have a book coming out eventually.”
- Just because they can’t afford it now, doesn’t mean they won’t be able to in a year, or two years. If they like your work, there’s value in that. Collect an email, make a pleasant connection, and move on. Feel grateful for these exchanges too. Appreciate everyone you speak with that is moved by your work. These are your people. Respect that. When you approach the work with this attitude and with an openness and honesty about what it is you are doing, it really doesn’t feel like selling. We aren’t trying to talk people into buying the work. We are assisting those who resonate with the work to make a decision to purchase something they love.
Hopefully, this gives you some insights to selling your work. In PART THREE, the final segment to HOW TO SELL PHOTOGRAPHY – WORKING DIRECTLY WITH COLLECTORS I will discuss some of the steps that come after a purchase, following-up with prospective buyers, and closing thoughts.
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.
These days, not a week goes by that I don’t hear Peter Lik’s name. More often than not, I hear someone mention his name in one form or another while I’m exhibiting my work. If you’re a color landscape photographer who deals with the public, you may know what I’m talking about. The fact is, Peter Lik has become widely known from his many galleries and more recent television show. Up until now, every time I’ve heard his name over the past 7 years, I haven’t mentioned a thing about having known him, worked for him, and having a good understanding of his work, ethics, or general photographic gallery offerings. I have chosen to not be associated and to not give his name more weight by repeating it aloud. Well, it seems that much of the world now knows Peter Lik, and for good or bad, my time with the Peter Lik Galleries is part of my photographic journey…it’s part of my story. In an effort to be more open to my audience through this blog, I have decided it’s time I tell my Peter Lik story.
At the Beginning
As a dedicated young photographer some years ago, near the beginning of my photographic journey, I began to understand and explore the many possibilities and career paths that I could follow with the camera. I had been having small successes selling my own photography during weekend art fairs. Most of these photographs were of temples, landscapes or portraits from my trips to Southeast Asia. I had a good eye for this style of travel photography, and was having my first taste of talking-photography with the public and with representing and selling artwork.
Near that same time, a mostly-unknown photographer was opening the doors to a new gallery in town. Peter Lik, a photographer with a number of galleries in his home country Australia, had already made multiple attempts to gain success in the U.S. and had failed in both Monterey and San Francisco. Now I watched as he made another attempt in my hometown of Lahaina, Hawaii. Front Street Lahaina was in need of something new and different and the Lik gallery stood out right away. I was totally impressed by the gallery – the size and presentation of the individual pieces, the total gallery space, it was all fabulous and very inspiring to me at the time. Although I had considered following the avenue of “travel photographer”, the Lik gallery was inspiring and I was now considering a new path as a “landscape photographer”. As I began to explore the landscape more in depth in my own work, the decision became clear. My love of nature and the outdoors, of solitude, and of a desire to pave my own way and to eventually work for myself, became clear. I was to be an artist!
As a passionate photographer, it wasn’t long before I decided I wanted to work for the gallery. I wanted to learn the fine art gallery business, and I wanted to be around photography as much as I could. I made monthly visits into the Lik Gallery and spoke to various consultants and the gallery director – Jesse Donovan. I remember feeling I know more about photography than any of these guys working here, so was surprised to hear Donovan say that photographic experience didn’t necessarily matter much in selling the work, and he typically hired people that did not have photographic experience. Really!? I thought. (It wasn’t until later did I understand this reasoning more clearly.) I continued my visits and made it increasingly clear that I wanted to be a part of the gallery.
Nine months or more had passed. I continued working nights at a local restaurant while working hard to sell my own photography in local art fairs. One night while at the restaurant, Jesse came in and sat at the bar. I went over to say hey while adding in some comment about wanting to work for him, and finally my persistence had paid off – he was actually there to tell me that an opening had become available and if I were still interested, I should come in and talk with him further. A week later, I was employed by the Peter Lik Gallery and my professional art consultant career had begun.
Working for Peter Lik Gallery – Lahaina
It was a very exciting, and very interesting time to be working for the Lik Gallery. The gallery was essentially self-sufficient and was operated by director Donovan, an accountant/bookkeeper, and about six of us art consultants. When I started there, I think the gallery had been open about one year, and the sales graph was moving consistently upward. At that time, the sales were approximately 100k-160k a month.
Jesse worked with me and another new consultant quite a bit and began to teach us the sales strategy involved. I remember how awkward it felt initially to take a piece of art off-the-wall and into the viewing room to discuss with the prospective buyers. I certainly wasn’t born a salesman. In fact, I never much liked pushy sales people and the thought of being one was an early challenge to overcome. But as the weeks went by, this wonderful thing was happening – between the way Donovan was teaching and the passion I had for photography, I was discovering a way to sell without being one of those…salesmen. I was figuring out a way to be true, honest, direct and authentic with my prospective buyers, while lacing it all with genuine enthusiasm, and what do you know, I was starting to sell! And, starting to sell pretty well, I might add!
As a passionate photographer, I loved being in the gallery. I loved viewing the work, talking about the work with visitors, putting on the white gloves and pulling out the beautiful prints that were in stock. Before too long, I knew every shot that Lik had taken, the title of the piece, the location, and back-story and techniques involved in each shot. I could talk to the customers for hours, if need be.
One of the things that made this time so very interesting, is that it was in this period when Lik was changing all his limited edition prints from the traditional Ilfochrome prints hand-printed by a master printer in Australia, to Fuji Supergloss prints being printed by a machine. It was in this first year that I worked with the gallery, that I was able to see the entire collection in both Ilfochrome, and Supergloss! The difference was B I G. Some of the images that I thought were so beautiful turned garish. Two of the images I remember changing the most were Kapalua, and Serenity. Both were absolute stunners as Ilfochromes, and afterwards…not so much. Well, to be fair, not to my liking. It seemed I preferred the artistic decisions Lik made prior to switching to digital prints.
Another thing that made it such an exciting time is that we began to break new records for Lik. Within that first year I was at the gallery, we broke 200k in a month for the first time ever for a Lik Gallery, and then started doing so consistently. It was around this time, and directly from the success of these 200k months that we were achieving, that allowed for the next big step in Peter Lik’s career.
Working for Peter Lik Gallery – Las Vegas
Soon after the 200k months in Lahaina, Lik was able to negotiate his way into a space into the Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, a longtime goal of his. Rumors began in our gallery about Donovan, the-now International Gallery Director, and a couple others heading out to Vegas to help get the next chapter going.
A number of factors were at play for me, but I found myself wanting to be one of the staff that moved out to Vegas. I had been getting island fever on Maui, felt confident that the gallery would be a success in Vegas and felt that it would be a great learning opportunity. After discussing the possibilities in-depth with my wife, we decided it would be a good opportunity and we’d go for it. I approached Jesse with a desire to go and he welcomed me aboard.
A month later, we’re in Las Vegas with all of our possessions, a new apartment, a car, a new wardrobe, ready to go to work. There were four of us from the Lahaina gallery, plus a few others brought on from Lik’s earlier San Francisco gallery, and a couple other rogue consultants, in addition to Lik himself, who was leading the charge. A handful of us worked with Lik to help finish the gallery and the floors and ready everything for the Grand Opening.
Before we knew it, we were opening the doors to Las Vegas and a new chapter in Peter Lik’s career. Up until this point, breaking 200k in a month was a gallery record. Now, I was personally selling 100k a month! And so were others. I think this gallery was doing 700k+ those first months. It was nuts! As an art consultant, I’d go to work expecting to do 10k a day. I’d talk non-stop for my entire shift and be disgusted with my own voice by time I was off work. It was constant – one presentation after another for your entire shift. With the way money flows in Las Vegas and peoples impulsive behavior while visiting Sin City, it was an obvious recipe to success – not to mention the fact that the gallery and work was stunning and unlike anything most people had seen before. It was a huge hit.
Up until this point, Lik had given Donovan a lot of control as to how the galleries and sales strategies would be operated. Donovan had proven success and the sales strategy we used were ethical and fair to collectors, and producing for the galleries. Good for the clients, good for the owner, good for the staff. It was all good and it worked well. Lik’s prices were reasonably set and ranged from $800 to $4500. You could purchase a nice big beautiful framed 60″ print (1.5 meter) piece for above your sofa for around 2600 bucks. Fair enough.
While most of us were a good strong crew of genuine people who simply wanted to work hard and earn a good living, there were a couple that were simply jockeying for position and feeding the insatiable ego of the artist to get ahead. As the months went by, good staff began to fall victim to the moves played by others, including Donovan, and a more suspect type of person came into control. This began another very interesting time for the Lik Gallery.
Value of Art?
Once Donovan left and a…different type of person took over, a lot changed. The entire sales strategy shifted. Initially, sales dropped. In order to continue making deals happen and having good daily numbers, they started giving away the house. Buy one, get one free. Hell, buy one get two free! Whatever they could do to get the deal done. They didn’t know how to achieve the same success as before, so they improvised. By giving away all this work to get the deals done, it at first appeared to management that the numbers were good, but of course the numbers were all funky and the margins were out of whack. In order to compensate, drastic changes started happening. Staff received huge pay cuts for one. Obviously, this didn’t go over well. Pricing and limited edition changes to the artwork quickly came next. There was a significant price increase across the board to the artwork, and Artist Proofs were suddenly born (added to the regular editions) and priced very high – like $25+k. Before long, a number of things were being realized to these people – mostly regarding the cost to the customer and what they could get away with, and the entire dance became about value.
This focus on make-believe value was another interesting shift in Lik’s career. Soon enough, they realized that having the $25+k Artist Proofs (AP) helped sell the $3k and $4k pieces. Someone would fall in love with a piece that was being showed as an AP and be told is was $32,000! Their heart sank knowing they could not afford that, and then they’d offer you a “regular edition” piece for only $3700. What a bargain! You were sold.
My Time to Move On
Seven months seemed like 2 years. I had gone from being very dedicated to the gallery, to having trouble even talking with customers about the work. I had sold over $700k of Lik’s artwork in those seven months, but now couldn’t stomach it any further. Without notice, I quit the Lik Gallery.
What happened? Well, the shift I discuss above and the myriad of aftereffects from it were a big part of it. This whole shift toward selling the work on a false-value seemed like a load of shit, to put it simply. I always prided myself on being able to successfully sell while being honest and genuine to the collector, and suddenly I felt like I had to feed people a bunch of lies. I know the subject of art and value is a touchy and sensitive subject, and I know there’s plenty of foolish people that will pay a ridiculous amount of money for something solely because it’s priced at a ridiculous amount of money, but at the end of the day, I have to be able to make sense of it and explain it to myself in a sensible way. For me, it is important to believe in the product and to use my knowledge and enthusiasm to successfully sell it. When the knowledge and enthusiasm wasn’t enough to sell the now-high-priced work and the discussion with prospective buyers had to become about value, I was done…because I did not believe in the value of the product.*
Secondly, the new directors of the gallery were a big part of me leaving. I was not accustomed to working with, or amongst, these type of people. I remember feeling that my days had become a chess match and I had to be careful with how I played my moves. This isn’t the sort of living I like, nor the sort of people I like to share my bubble with. This was very clear to me.
Finally, Peter Lik. You might have noticed that I didn’t mention him much. That was no accident.
It’s so bizarre for me to look back on all this and realize that Peter Lik’s work had an influence early on my photographic journey. With that path becoming so objectionable, it’s not been something I’ve reveled in. Yet, this period of time did teach me a lot both professionally and personally. I learned the how-to’s and how-not-to’s to opening and running a gallery honorably, forming a sales strategy ethically, managing a staff respectably, among many other things. I suppose I would not have learned much of what I did if it had all been peaches. And, I suppose looking back on it all, I’m thankful it was a “landscape photographer” that came to town and influenced my path over another – my love and passion for my path, and my work, has been unscathed and burns bright. There isn’t a day that passes that I’m not terribly thankful to be doing what I am doing, to earn the collectors that I have, and to be doing it my way, as respectably as I can.
* Value for the product: I have no problem with artwork selling for high costs. In fact, I am very happy and excited to see that photography has finally been accepted into the art world and we now see photographs fetching high amounts of money. These are photographs proving to be very valuable. 2 of the 5 most expensive photographs ever sold were by Andreas Gursky, a living artist. Last year, his Rhein II photograph sold in auction at Christie’s for 4.3 million making it the most expensive photograph ever sold. It was an edition of 6. Gursky’s 99 Cent II Diptychon, a two-part photograph, fetched 3.34 million a couple years earlier in a Sotheby’s auction. It was an edition of 6. Cindy Sherman, a living artist, is also on the Top 5 Most Expensive List for her Untitled #96, which sold at auction at Christie’s for 3.89 million. It was an edition of 10. I could continue to list photographs of value and there are going to be a couple common threads throughout the list – have you noticed what they might be? They are sold in auction – not by the actual party. They are small editions. Scarcity fuels real value and the auction house brings a certain legitimacy to the sale.
(More thoughts added on this HERE)