Last month I exhibited my new body of work at the Artist Project 2016, the first large-scale Contemporary Art Fair I showed at for over 10 years. An assembly of collectors, curators, gallerists and designers, this contemporary art fair allowed for the unique experience of meeting and buying from the artists directly. Shows like this cost thousands of dollars, so it's a huge investment, especially with an artist's budget. I went in without any expectations, only to learn. Here are 8 things I learned that wish I knew before the show.
Chatting with a visitor who was interested in the story behind my work.
1. Unless you’re famous, price your art to sell.
Selling your art feels great! Sitting on it, not so much. Focus on getting your work on people’s walls and out of storage collecting dust. I spend a lot of time on my oil paintings, so I priced them based on how much time they took to complete. My pieces were priced reasonably, I thought, and there was a lot of interest. But after having a look around I realized they were too high: value buyers look at size and the name of the artist, not the amount of time it took to create. On the last day, I lowered my prices for some smaller pieces and they sold.
2. Display a themed body of work.
Working in a series helps define your style and stay memorable among all the other artists. Viewers should be able to describe your work in 3-5 words and remember you by those same words. If your work is all over the place, it’s less memorable. I’ve made that mistake before, so this time I planned my theme around travel and culture. I was inspired by global backpacking trips and memorable personal encounters. I heard people describe my work as “meaningful postcards, realistic paintings, travel stories.” Pretty great for tags, right?
Travel Memoirs was the theme for my new body of work.
3. Create art in a variety of sizes.
Not everyone can afford a large piece, but they may buy something small to support you. My booth neighbour @marcel_g_art sold his art books; artist @tonytaylorart hand-painted mini limited editions of his own work for a modest $60 - which sold like hotcakes. And one of them is now hanging at my office.
4. Remember that not everyone will like your work.
Art is very subjective. Some people will check out your work from a distance without ever entering your booth. These people are observing your art, but they aren’t interested in conversation or committing too much time. Other people will glance at your work and walk right by. Don't take it personally — these people are more interested in a different style or genre of art. The ones who like your art will step into your booth and allow themselves to be captivated and even sold.
My booth during high traffic. Sunday (the last day) was when most people bought art.
5. Don’t be aggressive or pushy.
I had a lot of time at the show to people watch and interact with visitors. I picked up on what worked and what didn’t by observing successful booths around me. A smile with a casual greeting usually worked well; handing out fliers and business cards didn’t. People don’t want to be sold. They want to be left alone to admire your art until they are interested in chit chat. If they’re pushed or pressured to buy, they’ll most likely walk away. My neighbour @theartistabroad was great at closing sales. I learned a lot from watching her engage with people. As a mixed media collage artist, she would enlighten visitors by showing her creative process after introducing herself as the artist. She even had a working sample with her, which intrigued people and sparked many conversations that eventually led to sales.
6. Network and learn from other artists.
Having a helper man my booth allowed me to take a break and meet the other artists. I chatted with established artists as well as debuting artists, and their stories were just as inspiring as their booths. They shared the same excitement I did, and the more experienced artists I met like @richardanhert and @brianharvey shared tips about doing shows that they learned over many years. So go out there and network! Be a thirsty sponge and you shall be rewarded with knowledge.
7. Follow up with potential buyers.
Have a guestbook that visitors can sign when they visit your booth. Ask for their name and email, and include a comments section for personal messages. Take notes on people who express interest and follow up with them later. I sold 8 paintings total, and 4 of them sold right after the show. I wouldn’t have made half of my sales if I hadn’t followed up with the buyers right away (as soon as the show ended). Collect emails of your subscribers, who are your potential collectors, and send them updates about your art once in a while. They may not buy right away as some leads take years, even decades to bloom.
8. Don’t panic.
Days leading up to the event are stressful, and nights long. I pushed myself to paint more and do more. I stressed about everything: the frames, the labels, the decals, the pricing. But the more you do these shows, the less stressful it becomes. After the first time, you'll start to relax and look forward to the next one. Experience is key, and the first one is always the most stressful. Start with a local show, or a small group show. Just do it once and you'll get the hard part over with!
Fei Lu's Travel Memoirs: An exploration of the world and of the self, — as both are vast and mysterious— this body of work aims to instill the sense of awe and wonder at cultures explored and new places discovered.
Colourful Mekong: Shimmering out of the heat, an oasis presides over the river delta.
A medley of rainbow metals and welcoming smiles colour the landscape.
The Lone Wanderer: A dusty trail marks my pilgrimage. Splashes of colour struggle to break free through the grime and heat. The tune of birdsong and motors fill the air, the mark of hoof and tire litter the grounds. I could not be more content; for I am home.
Traffic: A seething mass of humanity. A roiling kaleidoscope of lives. But for one moment — the flash of a shutter, the blink of an eye — they stopped to say hello.
To see the rest of the Travel Memoirs collection and for more of Fei’s work, visit feiluart.com
Fei Lu is the founder of Winged Canvas.
Connect with her @feiluart on Instagram or Facebook.