Maria Brophy


  • and make good money doing it!

    ‘Strategies for a Successful Art Business!’
Art Marketing / Selling Art

When people don’t buy, ask why – How to sell your Art

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Artist Linda Ursin brought up a recurring problem that many artists have when it comes to selling their art.  She wrote:

“Many people say they love my art but I only sell a few pieces a year”

I can relate.

For many years, we would have people walk into Drew’s art studio, hang out for an hour, proclaim to be his biggest fan and then leave without buying anything!

It would frustrate me to no end.  I started feeling bitter about it, complaining to Drew that it wasn’t fair that people would walk in and take up so much of our working time only to leave empty handed.

One day, a man come into our studio and talked about how much he loved Drew’s art.  He looked at it all of the pieces on the wall, admiring them.  He got Drew to stop working on a project and talked to him for over an hour, asking question after question.  Then, he left without buying.

Perplexed and frustrated at all the time we spent with him that resulted in zero sales, I decided to follow him into the parking lot and ask him why.  I asked:

If you love Drew’s art so much, why did you leave without buying a piece for yourself?

What he told me next just blew me away.  He said “I didn’t know any of it was for sale.”

I was astounded by this because everything in the studio is for sale.  We have big pieces, we have little pieces, we have art prints and lower priced items.  It’s all for sale!

I walked back into the studio, feeling indignant, sarcastically complaining “No, we don’t sell anything, we just like to pay high rent and wait for people to come in and take up all of our time!”

But, then I had to grow up and ask myself what it was that I created that made this man (and many others) think that nothing in the studio was for sale.

Drew and I took the time to look at the studio with fresh eyes.  If we were just walking into it for the first time, would it be clear to us that everything is for sale?

And the answer was no.  We didn’t have prices on the walls and the art prints weren’t displayed properly.  The rooms in the studio looked more like a working studio, not a gallery retail store.

We decided to change everything to make the studio look more like a gallery/retail space.  We moved furniture around, assigned two rooms as “retail” rooms, added price labels and bought a nice rolling art print rack.

Now, it is very clear that the art is for sale.  And since we made these changes, when people walk in, they often buy.

WHEN PEOPLE DON’T BUY, even after they express great love for your art, ask them why.  They may give you feedback that will help you greatly.

Ask them this:   “If you love it, why haven’t you bought a piece for yourself yet?

Then wait quietly and patiently and listen to their answer.  It may be incredibly insightful and will help you to sell more art in the future.

Have you had a problem with this in the past?  And are you willing to ask your potential clients why they haven’t bought from you?

Please, in the comments, share your experiences!

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28 Comments When people don’t buy, ask why – How to sell your Art

  1. JJ Galloway

    I found this to be true of websites too. I had a not so tech savvy friend of mine navigate my website and just watched her. It was so amazing to see where she spent time looking and where she spent time trying to figure out how to get around the site. Finally she asked me how to buy something! I realized it needs to be so easy to buy something or you lose people. I once read the more clicks a person has to make the less likely they are to buy. I love what you said Maria about stepping back and looking at the way your doing your business with new eyes!

  2. Jacqueline

    This is brilliant, thank you. I have found that when I actually announce (online for example) my photo services are for sale (vs. just posting a photo from a recent shoot) I have inquiries from potential clients about how to set up a shoot for themselves.

  3. Frank Wolfe

    For me establishing a attractive studio / gallery with a good location, and pricing my work is the challenging part. I’m very new to this after being medically retired from my life long career as a firefighter. This is all very new to me . People tell me all the time , “love your work” but rarely buy . I just bought all your books and hope your knowledge and support will help me move to the next level …… its my future ? And I really wasn’t planning on this so I learn as I go …… as I read Maria’s great stuff along with other artist’s who reveal there struggles. I just want to do this right ! And you have to know your market and what they (the buyer are looking for) I’m also learning …..location , location, location is very important also. Love your stuff Maria !!! Thank you for the support!

    1. Maria Brophy

      Frank, thank you so much for the comment, and for leaving me such a great review on Amazon for my book!

      I appreciate it, and I know that all of your studying and efforts will pay off.

  4. Peggy Crago/ o happy clay!

    I sell mainly through art fairs and at one point became bitter also at the extravagant expressions of praise but no sales. The price is there, and it’s professionally displayed; but I was always afraid I’d be putting people on the spot if I asked them why they didn’t buy. I’m going to start asking, prefacing with, “I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but it would be helpful to know…” Trying to make sense of it in my own mind, so I wasn’t so angry about it, I came to the conclusion that I see lots of things I love but don’t necessarily have a place for it or can afford it.
    The comment above by JJ Galloway was very helpful because I don’t have a shopping cart on my site. People have to contact me to order, and that info is on the home page, which they may or may not read. I think I’ll add to each image something like, “to buy this piece call/email, etc.” I’ll see if that makes a difference. Or just email info, so it’s not this long list of two phone numbers, + an email.

  5. Julia

    Yes!!! Been having this problem forever but am squirming to ask why they don’t buy. I don’t want to come across as whiny I suppose? So proud of you running after him! I recently had an art consultation where it was suggested I should play with my price points (aka lower my prices) and that I make it look too easy (I had a lot of timelapse videos from start to finish) and need to convey the value behind my work in order to make it worth what I’m asking. That I am a bit too transparent and need to imbue my process with a bit more mystery.

  6. Teresa Leigh Ander

    Great post, Maria. It illustrates that as merchants, we need to look at what we are presenting through the eyes of the buyer. Sometimes it’s so easy to overlook the obvious but when you’re so close to your work it isn’t so apparent. Love your posts and following you. Keep up the good work!

  7. Beverly

    Another wonderful post Maria! You are an awesome lady to share all the hard work and lessons you and Drew have learned. I am wanting, and needing to get more in to art sales as opposed to just commissions. Let me say first I have been working as an artist my entire life (I am 54 and single…doing this alone!). Got a job with an ad agency straight out of high school and became self employed at 26 as an illustrator (mid 80s). Then technology came and computers took away about 70% of traditional illustration work and I had no interest in doing computer art so I went in to more fine art, murals and canvas works. And let me say…I wish I had picked a different career path! We are living in a different world now and so much has changed and most of the traditional art jobs have died off and I just found myself at this point in my life feeling hopeless about any kind of a decent future with my art. Of course the alternative is working a minimum wage job if any one would give me one considering I haven’t had a job since I was a teenager! I will only be able to do the mural work maybe another ten years or so as it is brutally physical…as Drew would know! Climbing scaffold and ladders and working outdoors or indoors around construction zones etc. And the worst part is people only want to pay about half of what the job is worth! If its a $10k mural they have $5k and I either take it and survive another two months or…not. And if I don’t take it there are several local amateur artist here who don’t do this full time or who have a partner with a second income and they will do any project for pennies on the dollar. One local guy here has over 30 murals in town he has done for free! That greatly impacts my ability to charge for work as people think this is a hobby! I also do canvas commissions and its the same story…everyone thinks a family portrait with 5 people should be $500! So sadly I have never even cracked $25k a year in all my years working as an artist and now in the last five years have been making under that! There is no retirement and I am single…with no family or inheritance coming so I am looking at a terrifying future. When I started out in the 80s there were careers to be had with an artistic talent. I always thought my art was good and have been told so repeatedly. But, if I was any good why am I still struggling? At this point my retirement plan is going to be living in a cardboard box. I have canvas works for sale for a few hundred that I can’t give away! Occasionally I can sell a watercolor painting on EBay that I have spent 3-4 hours on for about $15 and then EBay and PayPal take 15% of that in fees! Maybe my work is not that good and I just think it is? But then how would I have been commissioned for work by national companies…Disney, Universal Studios, Cabela’s Store, Coca Cola…and local casinos and restaurants? I know I need to find a specialty…a niche because I am a realist and so are a million other artist. I have started these fun colorful acrylic and ink paintings of cowgirls and horses that sell occasionally on EBay for under $25-15, but other then that I have zero direction other then just give up. Oh Maria, I am just out of hope!

    1. Maria Brophy

      Beverly, thanks for the comment and questions.

      I understand your frustration. There is a way, and I recommend you try it before quitting.

      STOP doing anything for cheap clients. Your work will appeal to those who can afford it.
      And then STOP complaining about people not paying enough. Forget about them – they are no longer in your radar.

      START only doing the big stuff with people who can afford it – spend all your time making $10K sales.

      Where you focus your efforts is where you will see results. Right now you are focusing on the cheapskates and the artists who ruin it for you.

      Starting today, focus only on the clients you want to attract. Write a list of what attributes your desired clients have (i.e. appreciate my art, are happy to pay for it, are a pleasure to work with, etc.)

      Connect with equestrian groups – exclusive, high-end ones. This is where you will find people who can afford your work, and who will love it.

      Where you put your focus is where you will get the results.

      Hope that helps!

      1. Beverly

        Thank you for your reply. Did the advice to simply not take the low paying jobs help? Well, if I don’t take them there is no income and I am single with no family so how would I survive? I lived in my truck last year at the age of 53 from May through September. So, if I don’t just take the low paying gigs I go back to that. I haven’t had a regular day job since I was a teenager. So therefore the minimum wage Walmart job is even out of my reach. I am competing with teenagers and folks who have been in the work force for decades. I just wanted to reply back its not so easy. Where are these clients who are wanting art and willing to pay fair prices for art? Anyway, I really do appreciate what you do and I think for artist who are younger and have more time to build a career they have a shot but at my age I am out of time basically. Being alone with no partner to help on any level this is just too much for me to try to overcome. There is nothing special about my work. Its just good old realism that a million other artist can do. Thank you again. No need to reply to this reply as I know its fairly negative and there is really nothing that anyone can say. Keep inspiring all those young artist as they too can have a wonderful career like Drew with the guidance of someone like yourself.

  8. Patricia Coulter

    Thank you Maria, for your honest accounts of your art journey. I appreciate your honesty and your helpful suggestions. I loved reading about your Camino de Santiago adventures!

  9. Suzanne Urban

    We live in an historic home (circa 1600’s). The descendants of the original builder of our home love to come by in the summer to take pictures of it, they come from all over. I’ve worked tirelessly building some area gardens in front for a better presentation. But recently it’s occurred to me to do something creative outside to convey that an artist with studio resides within. We’re zoned residential so hanging a sign probably isn’t kosher. But I’d love to think of something that implies an artist with studio resides within. Any ideas?

    1. Maria

      This is a great opportunity, Suzanne! I would do a live painting outside on weekends (or during the heaviest-people-traffic times), and when you can’t be there to paint live, place a painting on an easel with a little sign that says “A working artist lives here. Enjoy the art!”

      And then place some other art pieces around the garden, if it works with what you do.

      You might even want to have an art show inside and outside on a particular weekend and invite people in. I know a few artists who do home art shows and they are very lucrative for sales!

  10. Rhapsody

    Thank you! I just wanted to say thank you sincerely. It’s so refreshing to share real everyday problems, and real answers. Your words motivate me even more as an artist and beginning mural artist and I hope someday when I’ve reached a successful stage I can also hold out my hand with good experience to others like you! You go girl!

  11. Isabel Smith Art and Design

    when is use to show my art at local churches and community centers, people loved my art but they didn’t buy. when i asked them why, they said they didn’t have wall space. i started noticing that they would be a pillow with a print on it in a red hot minute. it started me thinking how could i put my art on useful things. so far, haven’t done it. 🙂

  12. Wendy Dewar Hughes

    I’m an artist and author but have also owned a wholesale business and a retail store. I found that if there isn’t a price on something, people won’t buy it. People don’t want to ask for a price because it commits them a little before they may be ready. Always make the price clear and obvious, then when you start a conversation with a customer, it’s with the understanding that he or she may decide to buy.

  13. Linda Schmidt

    When an artist has a gallery working to sell her art on Artsy, isn’t it wrong for the artist to post prices on her website? The gallery would be owed 50 % commission if the pieces on Artsy were sold by the artist on her own website.

  14. Steve Witt

    Loved the article on why visitors to galleries don’t make a purchase!
    It’s been our experience that many visitors need to see artwork 6 or 7 times before making the purchase. We try not to be too pushy, and pour on the pressure to buy now. We try our best to make the process easy. We follow many of your suggestions…asking questions about where their from, what drew them to the painting, if they are collectors of art. Get them talking about who they are and begin forming a relationship that could bring in additional sales.
    It is quite disheartnening tho, when people still visit and don’t make a purchase.
    Your advice for asking why they don’t make a purchase is pretty gutsie, but in this business we need to have courage to find the “real” answer, so we can adjust and find new homes for our work. It could be price, size, color…we will only know if we ask…otherwise, it’s just a guess. And as you say, we need to look with fresh eyes to make the sales process easy for visitors to purchase what they like!
    Many thanks for your honest and insightful guidance.
    Steve Witt

  15. Nancy

    Maria, I read everything you and Drew write. You are two smart cookies. I one day will own a piece of Drew’s work. Yes one day. I might be able to stop by Westminster on Saturday .
    I also just bought your book and I will be reading it while on vacation next week. Where I will have peace and quiet.
    Keep up the good work , and Thanks so much for sharing as much as you do. It all HELPS.

  16. Regina Pressley

    I’m so happy I found you! I’m new to the art world. I’m 52 and started painting in October of 2016. I post my paintings on my Facebook page. I have sold several pieces but sales have stalled and I was afraid to ask why? every time I post a new painting everyone just loves it, it’s Facebook so they really don’t have to comment at all but I get many compliments. But they haven’t night anything in a little while. I can’t work because of some health issues and I started this add a hobby to keep me busy but when people started wanting to buy I realized I had a God given talent and could possibly help my husband by bringing in some extra cash. I keep seeing all this art work in doctors offices when I take my mom to the doctor and now I think I will find out who to talk to about selling to these different have encouraged me.thank you!

  17. Wendy Picken

    Thank you Maria for this Blog Post- I read somewhere a while ago that it can take up to 8 exposures of an artist’s work before someone will buy it. When an artist is selling their work they are selling a piece of themselves, if you are selling your work or a rep is selling it for you, first impressions, greeting customers, making them feel welcome, so much about any business is about the ‘golden rules’ treating others the way you’d like to be treated. It is sometimes about forming a relationship with the buyer.—Thanks again Maria:))


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