Victor Michailovitch Vasnetsov (Wiktor Michajlowitsch Wassnezow) (1848-1926)
At a Bookseller's
It is very important to learn what price range sells the best at a given show. Based on the location and type of clientele a show attracts it allows the artist to make a careful selection of what type of painting size to show. I don't think it makes any sense to drag a $10, 000 dollar painting to a show where the average sales hovers somewhere under $1,000 dollars, unless you want this as your signature piece. This does not mean that such a painting can't sell given the right client, but if you are planning to cover the event costs and your overhead, it's like playing Russian Roulette and chances are slim to hit the jackpot.
I attended a meeting were senior fair members shared some of their insights with the new exhibiting artists. My take from their talks will follow, but I urge you to keep in mind that these are very general observations. Buying art has nothing to do with what a piece is priced at, but rather with how a particular viewer connects emotionally with that one piece that has caught his/her attention.
There seem to be certain time slots that attract a special type of clientele to any art fair, which will affect your amount and type of sales.
~ The preview night, which is usually by invitation only attracts people who are for the most part serious about collecting fine art. Since the artists usually send out these invitations it is safe to assume that the attending group will consist of relatives and friends, as well as past clients and members of the art world that the artists have connected with. This is the time when you are most likely to sell your higher priced pieces of art.
To get a better understanding of the preview night imagine a banquet hosted by top chefs, filled with all sorts of chef's delicacies. Everyone who likes gourmet food or is involved in the food industry will be there. These attendees not only sample their favorite chef's latest creation, but are bound to see and find some other favorites as well that they just have to have, before someone else claims it. Now combine this with a party atmosphere where everyone is happy and having a good time and the stage is set for some serious exchange of goodies, price not really being an issue.
Art Fairs attract the most visitors on the weekends. Visitors will consist of locals and your out of town visitors, who are at the fair to have a good time, while browsing and looking at nice art. Most of these people tend to go for something they can walk right out of the gate with. So think small scale. Typically cards, posters and small scale paintings with prices under $100 will do really well. There will be those that come to the fair with the sole intent of buying art for their home, but their number is small in comparison. If you think of a chart, the graph peeks at a lower price level the highest and starts to drastically decline percentage wise as the price increases.
John Singer Sargent "Morning Walk"
~ Art Walks
Art walks usually bring in bus loads of people who enjoy the arts. The key word is "bus". The art they are most like to buy would have to fit in the bus, better yet on their lap! But do not discount these visitors! There have been individuals who have come back with their better half in tow, to buy a larger piece and take it home.
Now a lot of my original pieces are large scale and I'll better be having a grand opening night or go into the post card printing business based on these insights. But as I said before these are generalizations based on volume and price points. People have sold high priced art during the week within a few minutes of closing, some have made zero sales at art fairs during consecutive years, just to turn into top sellers in their successive years. There are so many variables it is impossible to predict what will sell at what price, but it gives you an idea with what's most likely to happen. There are a lot of artist, who travel from one art fair to another making a comfortable living just doing that, so all this work has to make sense otherwise why would they bother?! So how are they doing this, you ask?
They offer something for every one.This means that they tier their pieces with more work at the smaller scale/prints/postcard level and keep selected, fewer creme de la creme large pieces as their show focal point high tier prices.
Putting your own emotional attachment to your work aside, you need to look for groupings of small - medium or large or if you must have more ~ mini-small-medium-large-extra large. Take the following things into consideration:
a. Material cost :Support, paint, frame, mat board, plastic sleeves,etc.
b. Your time: Ask yourself what your hourly wage is. Do you operate based on poverty level, minimum wage or want to sell based on what your time is worth to you?
Multiply this by 4 to get compensated and to be able to cover:
c. Gallery fees, art agent fees, referral fees in general. Most galleries want a 50% percent commission for selling your work. Agents, decorators and others to who you pay commissions or referral fees all want to be compensated as well, so make sure you accounted for their fees.
That should give you a fairly good idea what your prices are. Now concentrate on where the price point for the fair you are participating in lies. Most likely their top seller price level based on percentage will be worlds apart from your prices. This is where you might have to get creative. Rather than undercutting yourself and operating on a shoestring budget, consider offering things you did not offer before. Here is a list of potential items to cover different price groupings:
- Small/Medium/Large Reproduction Prints
- Small/Medium/Large Giclee Prints
- Original Sketches
- Original Small Scale Artwork
Of course there are things like novelty items, like books, calenders, magnets, etc., but you have to check with the fair's regulation to see what you are allowed to sell. Since I got juried into Art A Fair based on oil paintings, I can't offer water color sketches, but I sure could do oil sketches.
We each have different objectives and reasons why we participate in fairs, but besides gaining exposure for our work, connecting with potential buyers and making new friends it does give you a great sense of accomplishment if you can cover your overhead cost and most importantly sell your work to someone who just can't live without it. My motto is to keep my expectations low, plan wisely without going overboard and let myself be pleasantly surprised.
As a portrait artist, I have learned to by pass instant gratification of making an on the spot sale for the referral down the road. Somehow things tend to work out in very mysterious ways~