Once you have decided to share your art beyond giving it as gifts to friends and family, you will look for venues to sell your work. Art sales options can be overwhelming: ETSY (your work), zazzle (your designs on their products), your own blog, any of the dozens of web-based group sales venues, art fairs, sales through the arts organizations that you have joined, and farmers’ markets. And then there are galleries with individual owners or co-op galleries.
Eventually you may consider consignment, a nifty arrangement in which you put your work into either a brick-and-mortar or web-based store in which someone else handles the customer interactions (conversations and sales), and you keep ownership of the work until it sells. You always retain the copyright (unless you sell or give it away in a contract.) The benefits are wider exposure than you might create on your own and the expansion of your sales team to include the store owners and staff. For this, you pay a percentage of the sales price.
Consignment is a big step. Think through these points:
1. Find the right venue #1.
Talk to the owners or managers. They are in business to make money for themselves and for their artists. Make sure that you are comfortable with the people you will trust with your art.
2. Find the right venue #2.
If a store has a mission (representing artists from under-served communities, artists with disabilities, artists from a specific geographic area), don’t press to be accepted if you are not a member of the group.
3. Find the right venue #3.
Pay attention to each store’s price points. Don’t embarrass yourself by approaching a high-end-big-dollar gallery if the work that you want to sell is exactly what you sell on ETSY for under $30.
4. Find the right venue #4.
Style matters. A gallery with a 20-year history of selling cutting-edge abstracts run by one of the Big Names in Abstract Art Criticism may not be interested in taking on even the most exquisite realistic botanical art.
5. Find the right venue #5.
Some stores require artists’ participation beyond dropping off work. Is there an hours-per-month requirement? If you are uncomfortable with a few hours a month at retail, are there other ways to fulfill a work requirement? Ask about the managers’ needs. Consider social media, marketing and merchandizing as ways to fulfill your obligation.
6. Follow the store’s protocols with your Inventory Integrity.
You want to sell your art, and all stores have rules about pricing and presentation which — if you want to get paid correctly — you must follow to the letter. Although you will not be in the store every day, you must monitor your own inventory. Once accepted, you will submit inventory sheets with coding, prices, and product descriptions. You may submit paper inventory or you may submit online. Smart artists use consistent inventory coding and pricing across all inventory and across all platforms. Present legible inventory lists. Unless it is the policy, don’t expect the store managers to code and price your work.
7. Understand when and how you will be paid.
Some stores have multiple levels for consignors. Make sure that you understand exactly how each store’s compensation system works. Most stores collect and pay sales tax. You are responsible for paying your own income tax. Talk to an accountant or tax lawyer to make sure that you are tracking your sales and paying your income taxes correctly.
8. Setting prices #1. Pricing is hard.
What is the magic number that will encourage someone to purchase your work without undercutting its value (and your profit)? How much is too much? How little is too little? Talk to the managers. Look at the stock and ask about price points and what sells best. Talk to your artist friends who sell on consignment, and ask for their advice.
9. Setting prices #2.
Price your items consistently. If not now, then soon, you will be selling art in many outlets and across many platforms. Nothing will irritate store managers and customers more than inconsistent pricing should you have one price for your website, another price for ETSY, one price for this store, another for the shop across town, and yet another for your direct sales. This is part of your Inventory Integrity, and only you can manage it.
10. Packaging: People buy with their eyes
Always present clean, well-packaged work. Make sure that price tags and other tags are legible.
11. Ask to do a demo or to teach a class.
Many consignment venues have space for teaching which generates traffic for the store and can generate income for you. Note that store owners and managers are your first, best audience. The more that they know you, how you make your art, and how you talk about it, the easier it is for them to talk about your work to customers when you are not in the store.
12. Your artist statement.
Within the space limitations of the store, post an artist statement. Customers are curious about you and your art. How do you make it? What is/are your inspiration(s)? What materials do you use?
13. Sales are not personal.
Some of your work may fly off the shelves; other work may not sell at all. Consider re-packaging, re-framing, or re-purposing the work by cutting it up and making a mosaic out of it, spreading gesso over the canvas and making a new painting, or re-making the jewelry by using the components in new work. Every piece of work won’t be loved, but all of it can be re-purposed.
14. Know the law.
You will be asked to sign a contract. Read it. If you don’t understand some of its terms, ask the store owner, or, better yet, take it to your lawyer. You have a lawyer don’t you? Every artist should have a lawyer on retainer for no other reason than to have an expert eye to review anything to do with the sale of your art. Find a lawyer who represents creatives as small business owners.