And how I sold my last print.
And why it is the only print I sold so far.
This is the story of the one print I sold to an unknown customer. I wish I knew the name of whoever bought it, I would like to thank the person. So if you are that person, feel a huge bear hug from me.
Let’s rewind three years. I got in contact with a small neighborhood Gallery and community centre. They exhibit the work of local artists and run a program for new artists (“First Steps”) every year to give them a platform.
You need to apply for the program, so I did this and got selected. Every artist could exhibit only a few pieces, as we had around 15 other artists, and the gallery space is limited. I was the only photographer, the other artists were local painter (as in “art paintings”). Being in that program was exciting! Everything you do for the first time probably is. Other people would see my work printed as art pieces on the wall. And they could buy it!
My three fine art prints then were on the wall for two weeks, and nobody bought them. I expected that. However, my dreams were obviously painting a different picture. But these kinds of exhibitions open doors. They are networking events; you meet people interested in art, and you get in contact with people who can help you grow. That was the case, so it was a success I only realized later.
Next year I stepped up the game, I was delusional and applied for a solo exhibition. I’m glad they did not select me. It would have been quite a stretch, financially, and I did not have enough matching images to fill the entire gallery space. But they thought I could join a group exhibition with two other local artists. Between us three, we were able to fill the room. We met twice, found a vision for the group exhibition and made it work. This time I could showcase 12 prints (A3 format). One week later I sold how many pieces?
Again. But one of the two other artists let me know that there was a workshop in the city about selling art work. The lady who was running the workshop was a successful painter herself and is now mentoring other artists. She also acts occasionally as an agent for artists.
I went to the workshop. It was good, not only because of the content, but she became the facilitator for my first sale.
After the workshop we stayed in contact, and one day she contacted me and asked me if I wanted to exhibit three small prints in New York. What would you answer? I wanted! It was not a big gallery, but a small well-known Kiwi Restaurant in Brooklyn, exhibiting typical Kiwiana images. Some of my images had typical kiwi subjects, so that matched. I was over the moon, having my images on a wall in New York! For the record, none of these images sold.
But my agent also had contacts to a luxury New Zealand tourist destination, the Lochmara Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds. I provided three prints and did not think of anything coming out of it. But weeks later I got an email that they sold one of my images! It was this image here:
I received NZD 189.30 for that sale (they take a small commission). I subtracted the material cost I had for the print and frame, and split the remaining proceeds with my agent as without her I would not have sold any image. And she added $100 to the price I originally put on the image because I had no clue what people would pay for photographic fine art prints. So thank you, Kate!
The money is not the key point here, but it is still worth mentioning. I lost money over the entire process. Quite a bit. You can calculate yourself, I had twelve A3 sized prints with top quality archival print paper and ink commercially printed and simple frames. It would surprise you how much money goes out the door for an exhibition of only twelve images.
But it is a feeling of satisfaction and gratitude that comes with the first art sale. That was worth it. And even if I would sell no more prints, the one I sold will stay in my heart.
Why was it the only image I sold so far? Hmm.. I think I did not handle the art sales as a business. I was not in the mindset of a professional digital artist; it was (and still is) a hobby, not a full-time profession. If you work full time in a different occupation as I do (I work in IT during the week), it’s hard to shift the mindset needed to get more results. So juggling your day job and art business is difficult, especially if one earns money, and the other loses money, at least in the beginning.
What you can learn from this story
- Even small local neighborhood exhibitions open doors in ways you cannot foresee.
- Put in the work. Pay money upfront, prepare to never see it again. Rinse and repeat.
- Create opportunities. Some people look at the result and think it was pure luck, but luck is most often the last stage of an opportunity created earlier.
- Learn about the business side of art sales. Promotion, pricing.
- Create opportunities by engaging in community events related to your art form. Speak to people (that is hard if you are an introvert like me), invest into a website, exhibitions, an agent, whatever you can do to get your work out there. You never know who sees it and is touched by it for an unknown reason.
- Be grateful for the small successes and the friendly people you meet on the way.
- This is not a get rich quick scheme.
Thanks for your time, I appreciate it!
If you are in Christchurch, New Zealand, around the date of Nov 24, 2020 — Dec 12, 2020, come visit the gallery and help emerging artists on their way.