Selling Your Artwork

(This is the presentation I was asked to give to the Art Salon in St. Marys, Ontario in 2013 in preparation for their Show and Sale Event.  Please note that these are observations I have made over the years watching other artists sell as well as from selling my own artwork.)

If you want to sell your work, then you must be a salesperson.  The most successful sales people know that you must truly believe in yourself, have an excellent and unique product and you must bring your product to people who are likely to buy.

Ways artists can work towards these goals are by developing your elevator speech, handing out business cards, pricing your work appropriately, branding, editing, presentation, and connecting to the right people.  I will be giving you a short overview of these specific topics. All this information is available online by various authors if you wish to go into more depth.

Your Elevator Speech:

  • An exhibit gives you an opportunity to connect with patrons.   One of the simplest ways to engage customers is through the elevator speech.  And really…you are probably using your elevator speech every time someone asks you what you do.
  • An artist’s elevator speech is a short summary, about 30 seconds to 2 minutes long, that quickly and simply defines your work and the concepts behind it. You want to give a positive, upbeat impression.  Your elevator speech should be short but intriguing.  You want people to be interested and ask you more questions about your work.  Stay away from art-speak and be concise. Ultimately, it gives people a reason why your art is unique and desirable and why he or she should buy your art.  
  • Some things you might include in your elevator speech are medium and any unique techniques or concepts that you may use or have developed, what compels you to make art, your inspirations, your background as it pertains to your artwork, the number of years you have been practicing or who you studied with.  The content is up to you and is determined by where you are in your art practice, who you are targeting and for what reason.  
  • Although I strongly encourage you to practice your elevator speech, it should not be written in stone.  Every person you meet and each situation will be different so you might stress different aspects of your speech but the main elements will carry over in most situations.  

Business Card:

  • When you give your elevator speech, this is an opportunity to hand out your business card.  Have some laying around for people to pick up but also have some in your pocket.  Remember that your business card will represent you and your work to your customers so make sure it looks professional and reflects your art.
  • Many artists include an image of their work so that patrons can be reminded of why they took the card in the first place.  You don’t have to have them professionally made but they must look professional – it reflects on both you and your work.  For example: If your work is fun and colourful, then so should your business card be; if it is serene and traditional, then that is the style and font for your card.  If your work is naïve or folk arty, you might want to get creative and make your own. The business card size is handy because it fits in wallets, etc. but other sizes are possible as well such as bookmark or post card sizes.
  • Make sure you have plenty so that everyone who wants one will get one.

Photographing your work:

  • Always, always document your work.  Basically, document style of photography means that you shoot straight on, fill the frame and have a neutral background if one is showing.  Take as large an image as your camera allows and then scale it or fix the colour in GIMP (a free download similar to Photoshop) or Photoshop or a similar program. 
  • One of these images might be used on your business card.
  • Hint: photograph your work before you put it behind glass.


  • Your art should be unique – at least in your community.  You want a distinctive style that sets you apart from other artists and that you absolutely love – something that you are doing already.
  • I encourage you to show work that has some sort of connection to each other.  In otherwords, work that forms a series. 
  • There are many elements that can determine what is a series: style – abstract, representational, impressionistic, or high realism; subject matter – nature, people, or cityscapes; perhaps the medium is the link – watercolour, oil, or pencil; colour palette; size and shape of the piece. 
  • Many people think that you should show a variety of work because it shows versatility but this is a sale.  The reason that you want to show and work in a series is because it implies commitment and longevity to your art practice.  It also shows your customer that you have moved out of the experimental stage and are developing as an artist. 


  • Pricing is tricky until you find your niche.  Too cheap a price and you won’t sell because people don’t value it but if you overprice for your market then it is difficult to sell.  To make it worse, it is considered bad form to lower your price.  Customers who have bought from you at the higher price will be upset.  It is best to start low and work your way up.  Don’t be discouraged if you raise your prices and your sales drop off.  This probably means you have saturated your current market and need to search out others.
  • There are many ways to price your work.  Some people pull the price out of the air, while others charge a price per square inch. Using intuition has its pitfalls.  Artists might charge more for a piece that they are attached to for one reason or another. 
  • If you don’t want to sell an artwork, don’t put it in the show that is marketed as a sale.  It is rare for an artist to get a commissions from a "not for sales" or NFS.  If you must have a NFS then consider putting a price on the artwork and a red dot to indicate that it is already sold and don’t show it again.  Some artists would like to show a piece that is earmarked for another exhibition and therefore cannot sell at the moment.  Put this in the label and indicate that it will be for sale after a certain date.  
  • Charging per square inch allows for consistency of pricing – your patrons know what to expect and it is easy…you need only to figure it out once and then adjust as things come up.  Basically the formula is length times the width times a dollar figure.
  • When figuring out this dollar figure, please include a portion for your overhead.  As well as your time, include a portion to cover expenses such as for your studio (rent, heat, lighting), studio tools (paint, brushes, canvases), memberships, exhibition costs such as travel expenses, artist fees, reception costs, books, workshops, website, etc.  These should all be spread over the prices of your work. Much of this can be claimed on your income tax as a small business and you probably have a record of them so it normally isn't be too difficult to figure out.
  • On the plus side, this way of pricing helps with editing your work.  If you feel that the piece in not worth what you would normally charge, the piece is not resolved and you know to put it aside until it is finished.  Editing your work is an important step in furthering your art practice, in making sure that you have high standards that people can recognize. 

Editing your artwork:

  • Even Rembrandt did not make a masterpiece every time he painted.  It is important to be able to edit your work.  Not every piece will be appropriate or ready to show in time for your exhibition.  Most of the time, the piece is simply not finished and you are temporarily stuck.  Turn it to the wall and work on something else.  There is no rule that you have to show every piece you complete.
  • For myself, I find that my eye goes to the weakest piece on the wall and gets stuck there.  If your work is consistent then the eye travels from one piece to another.  As well, having uncompleted pieces can suck the life out of the wonderful work that is next to it.  Conversely, showing art that works together makes the pieces pop.  And shows your customer what can work together in their own home.
  • Show new work.  People who regularly attend exhibitions will remember if they have seen the piece before.  Change out your frames with new work or paint over unsuccessful canvases to help reduce expenses. 


  • It is very, very important that you work is presented in a pristine condition.  When people are buying artwork, they are not expecting seconds.
  • All work should be ready to hang and have proper hanging mechanisms on the back.
  • Framed artwork: fix nicks in your frames with a little touchup paint, and make sure the glass is clean.  (Never spray the glass with glass cleaner - spray your cloth.  This prevents fluid getting under the glass and ruining your mats or artwork.)  Look for good quality frames – they don’t have to be expensive.  Consider having the overall look of your work consistent to achieve a cohesive look on your wall.
    • Consider your frames carefully.  A bad choice in frames can suck the life out of your work and it can be an expensive mistake.  Think of the frame as part of your work so have it match or define it.
  • Canvases: Make sure the edges of canvases are finished.  Many people choose to paint the sides black or wrap the image around the sides.
    • Repair scratches and make sure the canvas is clean.

Long-term sales strategies:

Connecting to the right people:

  • Your target demographic is people with disposable income who are interested in having fine things.  Friends, family, and fellow artists are wonderful supporters and important connections but in reality they are not your highest priority target for sales.
  • Develop an email list of potential buyers or past customers to send your invitations to for your events.  This is an important and cheap way to advertise.  Include friends, family and peers so that they know what you are doing.  Always ask for permission to add names to your list.  Please read the Canadian Anti-Spam laws  
  • Keep your emails short but upbeat. 
  • Alway, always blind copy your email lists!  Many people do not like their email addresses sent to strangers.

Web presence:

  • If you don’t have a website already, think of ways to get a web presence.  It gives a feeling of legitimacy and permanence – you are not just a talented Sunday painter but an artist with staying power. 
  • There are number of ways to get web presence. 
    • A very easy way is to join Facebook and create you own page.
    • Join other social media groups. 
    • There are a number of online virtual galleries.
    • There are also a number of free downloads for creating your own websites but you do pay hosting fees. 
    • You might band together with a number of artists and have someone create something for you all and split the cost.  The down side of this is that you continue to pay to have things updated on your website. 
    • The easiest way for web presence is to join an artist group that already has a website that you can participate in. 


Most of this information is probably material that you have figured out for yourselves but it is always nice to know that you are moving in the right direction.