TRANSCRIPT: Ep. 076 Anatomy of a Successful Art Show


Miriam Schulman:
Well, hello. This is your host, artist Miriam Schulman, and you’re listening to episode number 76 of The Inspiration Place Podcast. I am so thrilled that you’re here. Today’s episode is really long overdue. Back in December, I sold over $9,000 of art at a holiday boutique. Not an art show, a boutique. And, I want to break all that down for you and share with you the success strategies so that you can sell more art too.

But before we dive into all of that, have you ever taken one of those fun quizzes that tells you which Hogwarts house you’d be in? Or, maybe another kind of quiz. You know, which Sex In The City character you are or something like that. So, if you like to take quizzes, you know how fun they are. By the way, I’m a Ravenclaw, which totally makes sense because I’m pretty nerdy and a huge bookworm. Now, I was a teensy bit bummed by these results because, of course, I wanted to be in Gryffindor. Who doesn’t, right? Of course, I was a little bit afraid I might be in Slytherin, if you know what I mean. But I wasn’t, for the record.

Now, for my non Harry Potter fans, you’re like, “Miriam, what are you talking about? Just get to the point.” So, my point here is just that quizzes are fun, but they can also be really, really valuable to your business, especially when that quiz has some meat to it and some substance. I’ve got the quiz of all quizzes for you today. My team has put our blood, sweat, and tears to make sure that your quiz results are exactly what you need for your art business.

Now, maybe I should tell you a little bit more about what this quiz is about, right? I want to help you decide what you need to do next in order to market your art. Now, this quiz is going to ask you questions. So, if you’re just starting out, your results are going to be different than if you’re a seasoned pro or already have had some art sales. Now, if you want to turn your passion for art into profits, but you’re lacking a solid strategy or winning mindset and perhaps you either don’t know where to start, or you have so much information that you’re overwhelmed… It’s really the same problem. You don’t know what to do next… I can help you.

That’s what this quiz is about. And, it’s based on my experience with working with artists inside the artist incubator. It’s a personalized quiz. I would love for you to take it. Go to And, you know what? I would love to hear your results. So, after you’ve taken it, either send me a direct message on Instagram or tag me. I’m @schulmanart. And, let me know what your quiz results are. I can’t wait to hear from you.

All right now, back to the show. Okay, like I said, in this show I am breaking down and sharing strategies of why this show was so successful. So, you’re going to discover, first of all, three aspects to look for when choosing a successful art venue, especially an alternative venue like a holiday boutique. You’ll also discover the number one character trait you need to develop to increase your sales.

And, we’re also going to talk about why presentation is everything and how small tweaks can turn your display from meh to irresistible.

All right, so let’s talk about it. Back in December, I participated in a two day art show. Actually, it wasn’t even an art show. It was a holiday boutique run by the music school where my kids used to take their lessons. I have been participating in this show for about 12 years now.

And, I usually do pretty well there, selling between $3,000 to $5,000 of art over the weekend. This year was exceptional, as I sold over $6,000 of art, which included three deposits towards commissions. So, when all is said and done, this is probably a $10,000 art show for me.

Now, why am I telling you all this? Believe me, it’s not to brag. But there were so many powerful lessons that I can share from this experience, and I wanted to unpack them with you. First of all, when I talk to artists who are applying to work with me, either coaching one-on-one or they want one of my free strategy sessions or to join the Artist Incubator, I often hear from artists that they don’t want to do art shows every weekend. And, I don’t blame them. It’s exhausting.

But the truth is, when you have a successful art show, you really only need to do four to five a year to have $50,000 in income from your art. And, you’ll be adding dozens of names to your email list every time, which usually adds more art revenue, as long as you’re consistently keeping in touch with your list and inviting them to your future shows. Now, here’s the other thing I want to point out. This wasn’t even an art show. It was a holiday boutique. And, I was the only artist there. Although for the most part, I do tell my artist clients to stay away from flea markets and shows like that, a well-chosen alternative venue can be very successful for you. So, we’re going to talk about why in this episode.

Let’s talk about what I look for when doing an alternative venue and why this one worked. I’ve done similar shows to this one to great success. Now, of course, the best venues for artists are going to be art shows because the people coming to the shows are primed to look for art. They already are arriving with the mindset that they want to leave with a painting. That’s also why artists will tend not to do so well at a craft show. At a craft show, people arrive with the mindset that they don’t want to spend a lot of money and they’re going to come away with a couple of gifts.

So, that’s why I encourage my clients to apply to the tented shows, even though they carry the highest booth fees. These tend to be worth it for artists who make a living from their art, as collectors come prepared to drop big bucks on original art. If you’re looking for a deep dive into how to have a successful art show at an art festival, go check out my episode I did with Tracy Lizotte. We dropped so many knowledge bombs in there. It was episode 30. So, you can go to And, of course I’m going to link it in the show notes.

There are alternative venues that can and do work, and I’m going to share with you what to look for. If you’re considering a venue, the first thing to consider is their business model for running a show. It definitely costs money for charities to run a holiday boutique. In this case, the music school had to rent tables and tablecloths and provide signage. Now, what I mean by the business model is how the venue, whether it’s a music school or a high school or whatever it is… How are they going to make money?

In this case, the music school collected a hundred dollar table fee. That was the deposit. It was basically their no flake fee, so they were covered in case a vendor didn’t show up. And then, 20% of your proceeds. When a boutique has a model where they are depending on you to make sales to make more money, that’s a great sign that they have a vested interest in you being successful.

Now, that’s different than the PTA gym model. I only had to do one or two of those to learn how spotty those can be. In what I call the PTA gym model, the school charges a table fee and it’s usually not very much. It’s probably like 25, 35, or $50 for each vendor, and they don’t collect any percentage of sales. With this model, the school’s best interest is packing their hallways and the gym with as many vendors as possible. And, since they aren’t making money off the sales of what the vendors do, they have little to gain from your success. They’re not necessarily going for quality, but quantity.

Now, there are exceptions to this. In fact, I remember a show at a private school, which was highly curated and competitive to get into. You had to apply. You had to go to their PTA and show them your wares. So, they were not packing the halls with flea market-type merchandise, and it was a very high-end show. In general, I prefer to do shows where the venue makes a percentage of sales and, in addition, has a long-term track record of running shows. That also helps.

The other thing that I consider when choosing a venue is how much foot traffic the show is going to get. For example, what made the holiday boutique I did a good venue for me, was that there was a constant flow of parents coming to watch their children perform. Now, since many of the recitals required the young musicians to show up early, the parents would wander into the boutique room to browse while waiting. Other sales ensued by visiting grandmas and also bored fathers entertaining restless toddlers.

So in other words, people were showing up early. Like, the kids were asked to report to room number five an hour before the show, and to kill time, the parents might shop. But also during the show, there might be a restless child that mom or dad or grandma has to entertain.

And so, they take them out and then where do they go? They go into the holiday boutique.

So number one, traffic is huge. So, knowing that people were showing up to watch kids perform was definitely a great sign that this was going to be a good show, whereas the PTA holiday boutique, there’s usually no reason to come. At least the ones that I’ve done that failed for me, is that the only incentive people have is to shop. And so, usually there aren’t very many people there because it’s not so fun to go to a flea market in a gym. Well, for some people it is, but that type of customer is not going to be looking for high-end art.

So I said, number one is traffic. Number two, incentive for the venue to have you make sales. And then, the third reason why this particular show works so beautifully for me year after year is, it is sponsored by a music school. So, this is a population of people who value the arts and hence, art collecting. Moreover, people who invest in music also have the means and the desire to invest in artwork. So, it is basically, what you’ll hear in marketing is getting in front of your ideal customer. So, it’s not just the quantity of people that matters… remember I said, number one is traffic… but, it’s a quality or a right fit.

All right, so I’ve given you three reasons why this alternative venue is a good fit: flow of people, charitable cause, and affluent audience that cares about the arts. But what really stood out to me this year, was that while I was doing really well, I mean, exceptionally well, the other vendors weren’t. And, I knew that because they kept coming up to me and complaining about it. So, why weren’t they doing well besides the fact that they were vibrating on negativity, which is huge. We’ll get into that in a moment.

But I want to point out some strategic things that I noticed they were not quite doing right. So, there were six vendors there that weekend.

So, not a lot of competition. There were two jewelers, a handbag maker, an artisan scarf maker, and two potters, each who created functional pottery. So, these are all useful products that make fantastic gifts and they would make fantastic holiday gifts. So, what was lacking in their selling styles that kept them from making sales?

All right, so the two things that really stood out to me were presentation and then, like I said, character traits. So like I said, if they were vibrating on negativity or lack of confidence. And, we’ll dive into that for sure, but first let’s talk about presentation. So, this comes down to concrete selling strategies, and I want you to pay close attention. If you are not driving, get a pen. This is going to be super, super juicy.

It does you no good to look for a non flea market-style event and then lay your goods out on the table as if it were a flea market or a garage sale. Because that’s exactly what I saw one of the vendors do. She had these truly gorgeous pillowcases and she laid them out flat with $10 price tags. So the price alone, I feel cheapened her art, hurt these pillowcases. She thought the reason they weren’t selling is because they were too expensive.

And I said, “No way.” If she had presented these same pillowcases filled with down inserts or regular inserts, whatever it is, vegan inserts, and added 50, or even $60 to the price tag, she would have been selling more and more easily. Whether you’re talking about art or in this person’s case, home decor, an affluent audience is looking to collect something that is aspirational. And, having a cheap price tag does not add to the appeal. And, I see so many artists making the same mistake of underpricing their art, selling original art for the same prices as prints. Don’t do this. Are you doing this too?

Chances are no matter how much you’re asking for your art, you’re also guilty of undercharging. One of the first things I did when I got to this art show was raise my prices. I often will come to an art show with a label maker. I do that because there’s often new art that I haven’t had time to price yet. But in this case, what I did was I had prints that, year after year, I had been selling for $68 each. I thought that was the sweet spot for selling these prints. They’re 11 by 14 with a 14 by 18 inch matte.

So, what did I do with my label maker? I marked every single one up to $75. And then, all my original watercolors that I had been asking for $150 year after year, got marked up to $325. So, more than double. I had the courage to do this because for weeks I had been admonishing my own clients in the Artist Incubator to raise their prices. So, by the time my art show came along, I had totally convinced myself to practice what I preach. And believe me, this works. I sold more art, not less, at these higher prices.

Now, besides the actual price themselves, let me tell you how else some, not all, but most, some of these vendors had cheapened their wares that made them less attractive. In the corner there was a potter. And, I actually have collected some of this woman’s pottery in the past. She’s Japanese and she makes gorgeous pottery using the wabi-sabi technique. Some of the pieces were even mended with gold threads, like the imperfections had gold threads in it. And, her display was truly beautiful. She had pussy willow branches in a vase and driftwood shelves, which added to the zen-like presentation.

Unfortunately, she made these three mistakes. Number one, first of all, there was way too much out on display. In order to sell high-end items, a less is more approach usually adds to the allure and the urgency of getting an item. So, is that the last blue mug? And, when you give the customer too many choices, they usually get overwhelmed by decision fatigue, and then they shut down and end up getting nothing. So, put out less to add to the scarcity of what’s there, and don’t give them too many choices. I bet you can think of a time when you didn’t buy something and that happened to you because you had too many choices.

Now, the second mistake, fatal mistake, that this potter made… Oh my goodness. So, I said she had these gorgeous driftwood shelves and the pussy willow and her pottery was beautiful. However, she priced them using these cheap little garage sale-style, hand-written pricing stickers. That’s why I like using a label-maker, by the way. It’s really an easy way to add a professional, thoughtful touch. And, if you also sell paintings the way I do, and you’re selling canvases, then it’s really nice to have your price attached to the wire, with everything printed beautifully.

But for someone who sells something that’s more crafty, study high-end boutiques and department stores. How does Tiffany’s, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman handle the prices? Go into their china department if you sell pottery. Go into their accessories area. See how they’re handling. China normally doesn’t have the price sticker on the object. You only see that at a flea market. So, it might have a small little framed price next to it. It might have a price tent card, depending on your style. It might have a little chalkboard display. It usually has something equally beautiful to advertise the price.

Now, the third mistake that was shared by actually most of the vendors there was, they lacked what I like to call the showpiece. If you walk into any department store… the best example would probably be the jewelry counter… you usually see a very extravagant, high-end necklace on display. And, the purpose of this showpiece is not necessarily to sell that actual necklace that’s on display, but to attract attention to the other pieces in the display. So in other words, if they have a gorgeous necklace, that is, I don’t know, a thousand dollars, people are attracted to it but then they end up buying the earrings. Does that make sense?

Okay, so how did I do this as a painter? Here’s what I did. I have two very large framed watercolor portraits. These are actually not originals, but reproductions because that makes it something you want to transport. The first one was my portrait of Yo-Yo Ma and the second is a portrait of my daughter when she was eight years old playing the cello. Now again, let me remind you that the purpose was not to sell these two particular framed prints, although I did sell smaller-sized prints of both of these artworks.

But the main purpose is, listen, these two portraits did most of the heavy lifting for me all weekend long as they quietly communicated that, number one, I paint portraits. Number two, I can paint a person that looks like the person, so that recognizable Yo-Yo Ma. And number three, that I paint children just like their children. So, these music lovers flipped out over this painting of my daughter playing the cello.

So, these two show pieces and… You know, the truth is I really only needed one. Probably one or the other would have been fine, but I happened to have these two. So, they were responsible for me taking in the three portrait deposits, and that was nearly half of my sales. With proper follow-up, that should result in another additional $4,000.

By the way, I’ve been throwing around a lot of different numbers and I just want to break it down for you quickly, just for consistency’s sake, so you don’t doubt what I’m saying, for all my bean counters out there who might be wondering, you know, I said I collected 6,000, but then I said I made 10,000. So, here’s the story. I collected 6,000 actually while I was there during the weekend, and 20% went to the venue. So, that was their fee, which by the way is a lot less than 50% if I was in a gallery.

Three of the sales were for portrait commissions. I collected a thousand dollars deposit on two of them. And then the third one, the grandmother bought it and she paid in full $1,800. The remainder was just on sales of my fine art. And, I expect to earn probably an additional 5,000 from the portraits, depending on how large they end up doing it and if they buy any add-ons or prints. Now, if you’re wondering how much I sold from non-portraits, since 3.8 thousand came from portraits and portrait deposits, the other 2.2 thousand… so, over $2,000, came from sales of prints and originals. So, that’s not too shabby for two days.

Now, there are a lot of other tactics and strategies that go into a successful selling experience. And, this is what I teach my clients in the Artists Incubator, and also what you hear me talk about on the podcast. You need to know what to say to a potential customer who enters your space and how to close the sale, but all the practical sales advice in the world isn’t going to help you if you’re missing the number one character trait. Can you guess what that is?

It’s confidence. It’s confidence. And if you’re lacking confidence, that’s when people start to get negative, by the way. So, you could say it’s positivity. They’re all interrelated. Now, I hear a lot of time from my students, my art students and the artists that I coach, “Oh, Miriam, you sell art because you’re Miriam Schulman.” And, that’s an air quotes, Miriam Schulman. But here’s the thing. No one I ever sell to, except for repeat customers, have ever heard of me before. They don’t know that I’m, in air quote, Miriam Schulman.

But you know what? I do. I know who I am, and I believe in me. And that, that’s the confidence that I radiate. And, confidence is absolutely magnetic for making sales. It’s why I talk about confidence and mindset so often on this podcast. Besides strategy, confidence is the number one thing I work on with my art students and my art clients, because if you’re lacking confidence, you’re not going to be able to put that paintbrush on the blank canvas. And, if you want to sell your art, it will hold you back as well.

So now, to wrap up, here’s the deal. You’ve got a few options. If you really want to ramp up your art business, but either you don’t know where to start, or maybe you’re overwhelmed with too much information, or maybe you’re a seasoned pro but you’re stuck, you don’t know why your art sales have stagnated, you don’t know what will really work to increase your sales, here’s what I want you to do. Go to take my quiz,

It dives into your art marketing personality. So, whether you’re lacking a strategy or confidence, it will definitely be revealed by this quiz. Your results are going to be very personalized and I will tell you what your next steps are. So, here’s what you do next. If you haven’t already done so, go to, take the quiz. And, remember, if you’re not quite ready to go full-time in your art business, this quiz will tell you. That’s what took us so long to really pour over it and make the results meaningful for you in a personalized way. We want to make sure that the results were as close to accurate as possible.

And, we did not take this lightly. And for the record, the we, the royal we, shout out to my studio manager, Anna, who helped me create this quiz. Definitely go take it. It’s so much fun. It’s what you need to do right now, and will literally only take you two minutes. So, if you’ve already took the quiz and you got results, I want you to look for an email from me, where I’m going to invite you to the next steps. Like, now that you’ve got a result, what’s next for you? What are your marching orders?

Now, I don’t just tell you what your art marketing personality is. I also give you action steps that are customized for you and I’ve got so much more coming your way. Next week, we’ve got a special guest, Brian Kurtz. We’ll be talking about his book Overdeliver, and also direct mail strategies. If you don’t know how this relates to you, the simple way of putting it, direct mail is whenever you send a postcard or an invitation in the mail to someone who’s interested in your art, right? That’s something artists do.

In this digital age, nothing is more valued than the time-honored piece of mail, not to mention there’s no spam filter on the mailbox on your front door. So, you’re not going to want to miss this episode. Make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast. On iTunes, that means hitting the purple subscribe button. Spotify, I think all you have to do is hit follow.

And, if you’re feeling extra loving, I would love to hear from you. Either leave me a review over on Apple podcasts, or send me a direct message on Instagram. I am @schulmanart over there. All right, my friend, I will see you same time, same place, next week. Make it a great one. Bye for now.

Thank you for listening to The Inspiration Place Podcast. Connect with us on Facebook at, on Instagram @schulmanart, and of course on

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