Many conventions with an artist alley also have a separate art show and auction. If you’re selling prints and original works, it’s often worth it to buy a panel or two in the art show because there are people who will miss your table in the artist alley, or who don’t bother to go to the artist alley.
Serious Art Buyers tend to concentrate their efforts more on the art show and auction than on the artist alley.
One good way to handle both a table in the artist alley and panels in the art show is to put your original work in the art show and sell your prints at your table. Or make a special edition of some of your prints – hand-colored or oversize, perhaps – and put those in the art show. Put a sign on the panel saying you have a table in the alley, so the art show viewers who do go to the alley know to stop by your table if they like your work. Consider it advertising.
Also, purchases at your table will probably be plain, unmatted prints while purchases in the art show will be nicely matted if you’re doing it right, which adds value.
How to Sell Artwork in an Art Show and Auction
There used to be a nice guide online about this, but I can’t find it, so I will give the basics that I’ve learned from running a science fiction con art show for two years, as well as a bunch of good advice from another art show director.
Additionally, there’s a good nuts-and-bolts article on making sense of typical art show paperwork, pricing, and bidding on the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists website. That appears to be offline as of October 2012, but there’s a piece on Yahoo Voices that has a little bit of information on navigating con art shows.
- Mat your work! I cannot repeat that enough. Art shows will not hang your work unless it’s been matted. If you’re not familiar with this, a mat is, basically, a cardboard frame that uses special cardboard called mat paper. (You may see it spelled, wrongly I might add, “matte”). The only exceptions are 3-D pieces you can display on a table, and some kinds of paintings on canvas which are designed to be hung without frames. It’s often easier and cheaper to create your art to certain sizes – 8″x10″, 4″x6″, 5″x7″ for example–and buy mats with pre-cut holes in those sizes at art or craft stores than it is to get your art custom-matted or to buy the equipment and learn to cut mats yourself. Although if you’re in this for the long haul it will eventually be more cost-effective to cut your mats yourself.
- Do not use crummy mats! Pieces with mats that have stains or bent and frayed corners sell for MUCH less than art with nice mats, if they sell at all. Do yourself a favor and if a piece of art has been to a couple of conventions without selling and the mat is starting to get beat up, re-mat it.
- Double mats and textured mats increase sales. But make sure the mat matches the artwork – if it clashes, it makes the whole piece look worse and it won’t sell, or will sell for far less than it would have if it matched.
- Framing prints isn’t necessary. Especially if you’re not a very, very good artist. All it does is make the piece more expensive and harder to haul around, which impacts your sales badly. Stick with mats. Conversely, framing original art can often pay off – it separates originals from prints and tells the buyers that you value the work highly, which makes them, in turn, value it highly.
- Most small and medium-sized conventions with art shows don’t do well in selling original artwork. You’re better off focusing on matted prints at those art shows.
- Consider bagging your work in a clear plastic or Mylar bag. This protects your work and adds perceived value to it. You can buy bags at comic stores, office supply stores, or online at places like ClearBags.com and Bags Unlimited.
- Your work will be sturdier and more protected if you put a backing board on it. You can get special tape to hold the backing board to the mat, or you can just put the board and the matted piece into a clear bag, fold the flap tight, and tape it shut. I do that, to allow the purchaser to re-mat their purchase easily.
- When framing a piece, the standard backing board is foam board (also known as Foam-Cor). However, if you’re just matting a piece, stay away from foam board. Most con art shows use bulldog clips to hang the artwork, which dents the foam board, which can then damage the mat board. Regular backing board, sold at places like ClearBags.com and Bags Unlimited above, doesn’t have that problem.
- Don’t overprice your work. On the other hand, don’t underprice it, either. Strangely, art priced cheaply often doesn’t sell as well as mid-range pieces. I think this is because buyers assume that the artist doesn’t value their work and in turn the buyers don’t value the work.
- Put a variety of sizes and prices on the panel. A good mix is 10-25% expensive pieces, 35-50% mid-range, and 35-50% inexpensive. This allows people with a variety of budgets to bid on your work, and you tend to sell more than if you put one price range up.
- Make sure that ALL your art has your name, your URL, and/or a way to contact you on it! You WANT people to associate your art with your name, and to be able to contact you if they want to buy more, or if they have friends who want a copy of the print! Consider using a business card on the back as your label. Art shows require that every piece be labeled, and this gives the buyer a way to contact you after the show.
- And speaking of business cards, clip some business cards to your panel. Many times people at the art show aren’t sure about buying at the show itself, and want a way to contact you afterwards. You should always have business cards with you at the con for this and other reasons. And a note added in 2012: I went to a con last month and one of my goals was to collect contact information from artists to invite them to purchase panels in another con’s art show, and almost nobody had visible contact information. Don’t do this, guys! PEOPLE WANT TO HELP YOU SELL YOUR ART!
- Limited editions of prints tend to sell for higher prices than open editions (no limit on the number of copies). Buyers like to think they’re getting something special and one of a few pieces, rather than something common. If you can’t stand not selling a print in unnumbered quantity at your artist alley table, then make a special edition on very good paper or at a larger size, or do something unique, like hand-coloring or gluing a sparkly thing on it, and produce a short run of that edition. You can price it higher and Serious Art Buyers will value it more to know they’ve got something almost nobody else has. Make sure limited editions are signed and numbered. (For example: if you have a 10-print limited edition, you’d number each in sequence as 1/10, 2/10, 3/10, etc.)
- If you do your art entirely on the computer and make a limited edition run, consider destroying the original high-resolution file. Put a note on the piece in the art show (and the copies at your table) that says you’ve done that and no more prints will be available when this run is sold. It increases the value of the existing pieces.
- If you don’t do very well in a particular art show the first year, don’t let that discourage you. Keep sending art to that show each year. Buyers, and especially Serious Art Buyers, often wait a year or two to start purchasing from an artist new to them. They consider buying art to be an investment, and want to make sure that you’ll stick around and that their investment will be worth it.
(New 1/1/2013: And now this page is getting targeted by spammers, so the comments are being shut down. Never fear: I will always have at least one page open where you can make comments, even if it’s heavily moderated, and you can always use the Contact Me page to send me a message.)