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Shout it Out Loud
I heard Gene Simmons say once that Kiss strutted around like rock stars with big hair and dramatic costumes way before they made it big. Why? Because no one was going to believe in them unless they believed in themselves first.
I'm not saying you should dress flamboyantly and kick down doors, but the moral of the story is you must believe you are valuable if you expect others to do the same.
Do you deserve to be a professional artist? Should people spend their money on your work? Will it add beauty and meaning to their lives? Absolutely. Don't ever doubt.
Make sure it's true. Master your skills and create great work, but don't ever doubt your value.
If you think you're doomed to be a starving artist, you'll never eat.
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Know Your Niche
Identify other artists whose work is similar to yours, especially the successful ones. What are they doing to sell their work? Don't be afraid to ask. If they're local, visit them and talk. If they're global, find them online and inquire. If they don't want to communicate, their loss.
It's important to determine to whom they are selling. To whom will you sell? "Anyone" might be the easy answer, but you need to be more specific.
What is common among your previous customers and the customers of those in your niche? Are they environmentalists, religious, rock'n'roll types or cat people? Are they veteran art buyers drawn to galleries? Do they purchase dramatic pieces that catch their eye online?
You might be tempted to say yes to every invitation to show your work. Once you have narrowed down your audience, you may realize some shows are not for you. They're low target opportunities for your type of work.
You're better off pursuing other markets.
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How to Get Into a Gallery
Getting your work into a gallery is about more than just the pieces you'll display. Yes, the owner needs to like your art, but the good ones are looking past that. They are looking at their future and yours.
You are entering into a business relationship. Consider this a job interview not for a one-time gig but for a career. The gallery will give you its space, time and endorsement. Are you worth it?
They want to know if you're long term. They want to sell your work now and later. So are you a flash in the pan?
Talk to them about your past and your growth as an artist. Display your ambition, vision and goals. Convince them (and yourself) that you'll be a major artist for years to come.
Express your knowledge about the art business or at least your willingness to learn. Be a professional. Be easy to work with.
When the results of your first show are less than spectacular, which they probably will be, be encouraged by the bright side. Show that you learned from it and will grow. Don't be that bombastic artist crushed and indignant about those who didn't buy.
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Showing in Non-Gallery Situations
Galleries can take the fun out of art. Maybe you're not the gallery type anyway. Many other businesses will be happy to have your work.
Banks, restaurants, coffee shops, music venues and other spots routinely rotate artwork from local creatives. Approach them with the same professionality you would a gallery.
The relationship will be different, though. At a gallery, both you and your host are in the business of selling your work. At a non-gallery location, selling you is not their first priority.
They are a business first that happens to display art. Your work makes their place more beautiful and interesting. It gives their customers a reason to come back routinely to see what's new.
Realize their employees will not be primarily inclined to show off your work when you're not there. So help them out with cards and information. Provide an easy display talking about your work, methods and history.
It's not that they don't want you to be successful. They will, if they like you. So get to know them. Be friendly and likeable, and then they'll pull for you.
This is especially true in a food or beverage operation where a good chunk of the staff are artists of some kind too.
Request a reception when your show opens and closes. This gives you a chance to interact with the staff and customers. It gives you and the house a common purpose at last. You both want to bring people in.
Once you have a crowd, capture their information. Have a guest book or a comment box. Ask for their email address but also their comments and reactions. Start a dialogue.
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Get Out There
The worst thing you can do is nothing. Be confident. Find your niche and a crowd that appreciates you. You'll have more. Eventually your work will find traction and buyers.