Selling Art Directly to Collectors: an Artist's Point of View

Written by Carolyn Ellingson in the 1990s

Open Studio

Open Studio, where I sell most of my art, affords both artists and collectors the opportunity to deal directly with each other and to get to know each other. I have been selling my art directly to collectors without going through dealers or galleries for some time now.

I put prices on the work where they can be seen

That way collectors won't have to deal with arbitrary pricing. They know in advance how much something costs. On the other hand, I don't make discounts under pressure Almost all of my work is already inexpensive at Open Studio. If a piece is not priced very low, there are plenty of other pieces that are inexpensive and are downright bargains.

A Refund Policy and an Exchange Policy inspire confidence

I have an Exchange Policy on view in the studio for purchases made in the studio. I have a Refund Policy for online buyers. They are different because the situations are different. People are apt to feel better about making an art purchase if they know they have some recourse if the art doesn't work out. Again, I establish a date after which the sale is final.

A merchant credit account is a huge help in facilitating sales

I find that people often are relieved to know they can use their credit card. It's a safe transaction for both parties-the collector knows he/she has recourse in the event of fraud. I can run the card through the machine to know whether it's "good."

My Business License and Resale Permit are on display in the studio

This shows that I am doing business in a professional manner--something I feel is important for buyers to know. My Bio is available during the show I also have a few to hand out. Handouts can always be mailed later if someone really wants one and I have run out. I get the collector's name and address and give him/her mine when I make a sale This is helpful in the event we have to contact each other if there's any problem with the transaction of if we just want to contact each other again for some other reason.

I help the collector choose a piece if they seem undecided

It's helpful to talk about the viewer's expectations for the piece. How large is the wall (or other space) where the art will reside? What kind of a look or an effect are they after? Are they comfortable with intense color or not? If a couple disagrees about the piece, there is a great opportunity for dialogue among the three of us. Also it helps to discuss framing if framing is involved. How much do they know about framing? I offer some tips and the name of my framer.

It sometimes helps to let the collector try the work at home on a trial basis

Collectors know what they like but they don't always feel certain about their choices. This is not surprising. It's hard to know if a work of art will look good at home, even if you think it probably will. If a collector seems uncertain about that, but really is inclined to buy the piece, I often offer to let them take it home to try it out. Whether I am able to make that offer may depend on how likely I am to sell that piece that day to someone who is certain they like it. But many times my work has gone out on a trial basis and many times this has resulted in a sale to a satisfied collector.

When letting a piece go out on trial, I establish a return date (or approximate return date) and get a signed agreement. I note that I am lending the piece that is in good condition. I keep a copy of the signed agreement for myself and give one to the collector.

I look at the goods before I sell and keep a clean studio

If I slip up on this, it causes embarrassment. To pull out a piece that someone is admiring and find it to be damaged or dirty is not going to help sales. It's better to take the time to look things over ahead of time and see that they are in good condition.

It's nice to have handouts

Collectors and open studio visitors like to come away with little images and pieces of information. I have a handout called "Framing Tips" and I also use leftover postcards or those returned in the mail (that are good for the image), and business cards.

I leave the show up all weekend during Open Studio

Since I only show in my studio, I want everyone who visits to see all my work. Buyers are asked to pick up their purchases after the show on Sunday or another day. If they can't do so, I may offer to deliver the work unless it would be extremely difficult to do so. Occasionally I let small pieces go off the wall if I have something very similar to fill the empty space on the wall. The show doesn't look good with big gaps where pieces have been purchased and taken away. And visitors who come later don't get to see the real show.

I open my door when the show opens

Seems only fair to start when people expect the show to start. Because I have some out-of-town visitors I don't do the preview evening because they might not be able to make it to the preview.

I like to give away something free

Raffle items. Handouts. Refreshments.

Customer is King

Attention to detail is critical. No one is perfect, but this is an area where it's especially damaging to slip up. I have done so, and it hasn't felt good. The collector's business must be kept private. Along with this goes (for me) never sharing or selling my mailing list. I also don't email show announcements and auction announcements to those who are not subscribers to my mailing list.

I treat my collectors well

Without my collectors I don't have an art business.