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Part 3: One Artist's Marketing Success Story on How She Sold 225 Paintings in ONE YEAR!

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

Here's MAYS MAYHEW in her studio working on the 40" x 60" EVE in graphite. Mays generously shares her marketing ideas for a successful art career with our readers in this 3-part series. Scroll down for more of her artwork...

Last of a three-part series.

The art marketing success of Mays Mayhew has not happened by chance, but by planning. In 2021, she sold 225 paintings. In this 3-part series she generously shares her marketing tactics. Be sure to read the previous two articles in this helpful series, if you missed them.

Here are this week's business tips shared with Art BEAT (AB) by Mays.

AB: When selling your artwork through another business, such as a gallery, what is considered a fair commission? Are galleries helpful in promoting you?

Mays: I’ve done 55 galleries solo exhibitions over 20 years. The 40% commission is expected and understandable and the norm. If a gallerist is really good and brings in the right demographic that buys, 40% is fair. Most of the galleries I’ve shown in (bottom and mid-tier) weren’t well-versed enough in marketing to collectors. 90% of the galleries where I’ve shown did a horrible job of promotion.

One gallerist told a huge crowd of opening night guests she didn’t even like my work. I’ve worked a lot more hours promoting the gallery shows than the galleries did. So, 40% commission, plus my time promoting, plus 20% cost of goods leaves very little.

For example, in the last two gallery shows, I sold 3 pieces at one, and 13 at the other. 16 total. Sounds good, right? However, I spent 50 hours promoting the shows through social media posts, emails, phone calls, posting on event pages, etc. My net profit combined was $1020. Both galleries made a lot more than I did.

For that reason, I didn’t do any gallery shows in 2021. At the same time, I believe (the right) galleries are necessary for artists.

I have a gallery show coming up in March 2022. I have a 3-person show at Water Street Studios (in Batavia, IL). The two other women I’m showing with are all great at getting the word out. Water Street Studios has a huge following in the Fox Valley area, so I’m optimistic.

Recently, I’ve been showing at my home studio. In November, I did two events, and invited two guest artists to each one. It was very successful. All five of us sold art at both events. I plan to do a lot more open studio art events at my in-home studio. The next open studio and sale event is April 2nd, followed by August 20th and November 5th, 12th, and 19th.

AB: What sells better…original pieces or prints? Do you also make greeting cards and/or postcards of your work?

Mays: The best-selling pieces are hybrids. I start with a giclee print and then embellish and draw, paint, or demolish it to create something new and unique. I can do a lot of them fast so that I can sell them at a good price. Plus, they are very fun to do. Originals are very time-consuming and extremely laborious. I average 5 of those a year.

AB: Do you sell your work matted and framed? Or, just matted? Is there a preference among your customers?

Mays: For the larger pieces, 16x20 to 40x60”

For the more educated and experienced art collector, they prefer to frame the piece themselves. Once in a while, I’ll have an experienced collector want a frame, but it’s rare. The art buyer whose buying work to fit somewhere specific tends to want the frame.

For the 5”x7” – they are already framed and I think they are just lovely in that frame.

AB: What price ranges work best for your work?

Mays: The two price points that sell best are $75 and $1000. Followed by $200, $300 and $500. I only have 5 price points. It makes it easier to remember.

AB: How do you handle sales financially…c/c, paypal, cash/check? What banking system have you set up for yourself like Square or some of the other online systems?

Mays: I have a business checking account, DBA, that is separate from personal accounts which helps me keep all the transactions easy to track. I use Square because I have found that one is the most secure above others. Almost all sales are through Square. I believe it’s really important to have a business authorization and tax ID number and Certificate of Ownership of Business. If you don’t have those things, handling sales gets extremely complicated. I also find that once you have those things, you tend to act more like a business, just out of the responsibility of having one. That garners sale. The result is psychologically positive.

AB: Business-wise, have you set yourself up as a corporation, sole proprietor, or other?

Mays: I did a lot of research a while ago and for me, sole proprietor was the best way to go. My EA tax agent (located in Geneva, IL) was my best source of advice for setting it all up. I suggest always seeking professional tax advice.

AB: Any other helpful tips you can share?

Mays: I highly recommend any artist, who wants to make their art a business, to behave like one. That is, get a business banking account, Certificate of Ownership of Business, ID number, POS, etc. Seek out where clients are, and when you do find them, treat them like VIPs.

  • Have a strategic plan.

  • Test often.

  • Pivot when needed.

  • Evaluate.

  • Repeat successes.

One last reminder about SOCIAL MEDIA:

While on FB/IG – ask yourself if this activity is bringing you closer to your goal. Don’t scroll endlessly – it’s a bad habit that wastes time. FB/IG is not your friend. It’s a tool. It’s not a toy. It is a trap a lot of people fall into with good intentions in the beginning. If you want to sell art, don’t fall into that trap. FB will cancel at any time the “bot” deems necessary. Since your FB presence may not be permanent, one needs to mitigate that risk and do what they can to create their own client lists / email lists.

Remember, sales start with a funnel that you monitor carefully regarding what is working and what isn’t. That funnel begins with generating traffic to your website/shows/events.

And lastly, consider getting an art coach if you want to make this your livelihood.

EVE 24" x 36", graphite on paper

TALK TALK 24" x 36", graphite and paint on paper

ONLY ONE 16" x 20"

CROWN, 24" X 36" graphite paint

PEACEMAKER, 24" x 36"; graphite, watercolor


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