It was a great experience this past weekend to participate in the local Edmonton Art Walk. Celebrating its 15th year, the Artwalk is a showcase for 300 local artists on the city's busiest avenue at the busiest time of year.
This was my first "retail" experience, where I'm selling physical work and being an "artrepreneur". As a new freelancer, I'm learning some some things about what and how to sell. The Artwalk is geared towards the general public, and as such is telling of what the majority of everyday people are interested in spending money on.
The physical display aspect of my presence went really well. Originally, I had planned to make a display with 2x4s and peg board. Thinking this was going to be an ordeal and likely result in something cumbersome, I decided to check out a store supplies retailer. This was a godsend, as I found everything I'll ever need for display and tradeshow purposes for reasonable prices. I purchased the standing racks as shown below for my still lifes, and had an attached basket which held some fantasy drawings. My initial thought was that the drawings were just an addition to the more marketable works, so they weren't displayed with any fanfare.
I brought along one portrait to show and also had some signage advertising workshops. Thinking that my prices were going to seem high to the average buyer, I made the sign below to help explain how value is derived:
I was definitely off the mark here, as I didn't look at what other vendors were selling their stuff for, and eventually realized that I was under-priced; especially in regards to my drawings.
The photo above shows how I was positioned, and it worked out great. With my back to the crowd, there was no intimidation or sales-pressure for people looking at the work. Customers could watch me draw which gave people insight into the time-consuming creative process and appreciation for the craft and effort in the work. Sitting directly next to the work allowed for an obvious link to who made the art and how it was done. Conversation with people caused others to stop and listen in, and if a sale was being made, it created a sort of "feeding frenzy". When other customers saw the conversation and sales happening they are more likely to buy themselves. As compared to the second day (below photo) the first set up was optimal.
While there was much praise and interest in all my work, it was actually my fantasy illustration drawings that made up the bulk of my sales. The reason is likely the lower price compared to an original framed painting, but there was also definitely an affection to the content. I'm surprised how well the fantasy art was received outside of an illustration-specific venue or convention. Many more people than I expected responded favorably to the narrative work, especially the classically-inspired fantasy scenes that I enjoy, such as "Perseus and Andromeda". (I sold all of my narrative drawings, and only 2 paintings.) I assume it was the novelty and uniquness of the work, and I could sense an appreciation for this direction as opposed to strictly wall decoration. This response has inspired me to focus more on these things instead of watering my production down with items that I thought were more "accessable" and saleable. Instead of making 2 distinct bodies of work (wall art and commercial art), I can now feel comfortable in sticking to my "bread and butter" with confidence that the work will sell as originals outside of a fantasy-specific setting like a convention.
Its gratifying when people spend their money on your work, and makes you feel more confident that the things I personally like and create are appreciated by others. When someone buys a narrative or creative work, they are buying my art and personal vision, rather than a decoration or a technical piece or labor.
For my next convention or artwalk, I'll get prints made of the pieces that resonate the strongest, and maybe brand my sign and "booth" more strongly in the illustration direction. Having some finished illustrations and painted fantasy art would help in this regard as well. I'll display the drawing more prominently so people don't have to discover the basket and sort through them. An important aspect I realized was eye-level, or making sure the work was hung high and easily accessed at a glance. Patrons walking down a crowded sidewalk filled with art aren't going to read small signs or search for gems, and they need to be "hooked" by the art that is most interesting. I heard and saw that the common price-point for the Artwalk that facilitated sales was in the $75-$100 range. People often have a budget and are looking to "collect" a few unique items from various artists, and so don't want to spend all their money on one piece.
Next year I will keep in mind this price range and have more options and product choices for that budget for my narrative work.