So it’s opening night. Your heart is all aflutter with excitement. Will people turn up? Will they like your artwork? Will they buy it? Will you have enough white wine to get people tipsy enough to extract their credit card? So many things to think about, and here’s another.

Your exhibition opening night is a prime opportunity to extend your list of prospective clients and discover information about what people like about your artwork, and more importantly whether they would be willing to step over the line and transfer their money into your bank account in order to own it.

What do people like about your art? Let them tell you!

My first proper exhibition, oh how I remember it well. Yes I wanted to make the show absolutely spectacular, but I also wanted to make the most of the opportunity to get my art career up an running. So in and amongst the flurry of last minute painting my brain started ticking over how I could use the show to figure out exactly which paintings people like so I could then embark on the (never ending) quest of making paintings that people might actually like to buy.

Yes, it may sound mercenary, and I hear some of you saying ‘oh I could never paint a picture just so it’s saleable, this is my A-R-T’… for those people I say, that’s great! Obviously you have access to so much money that you can afford to make art that nobody wants.

I can tell you from personal experience, in the long run making art that nobody wants is actually quite frustrating and boring. People can say to you ‘oh you are so clever’ and ‘oh your art is beautiful’ but there’s so much more spice and zing to this whole thing when someone hands over a $3000 cheque. Now that’s the kind of praise that boosts self esteem to the max!

Okay, back to the point…

My solution is something I call my ‘Favourites Box’

I strategically placed a decorated an well labelled box up on the counter desk so that everyone can see it and access it easily. I make sure that every visitor receives a pencil and a ‘Favourites Form’ which allows them to tick the artworks which are their favourites. I asked them to mark at least 3. The form also requests their contact details, whether they buy art and more importantly whether they are interested in buying my art (no need to be shy about this).

In return for filling the form out IN FULL (big letters) I offer a chance of winning a prize in a lucky draw. In my case I offered a limited edition print set, nicely framed. Of course I wasn’t the one giving out the pencils and the forms. I had a whole team of close friends who did all that for me so I could concentrate my attentions on the people who are most likely to buy my art.

I made sure that I announced the presence of my Favourites Box during my exhibition speech and also mentioned it a few minutes before the prize draw. There’s nothing like the imminent drawing of prizes to get people filling out those forms!

People often don’t know quite what to do at an exhibition anyway, other than quickly look at the artwork and then stand around making small talk. Your Favourites Form gives them something to do and actually gets them to really think about your work, taking a closer interest than maybe they would otherwise.

After the party is over…

At the end of the night, I pull all the forms out the box and look them through and lo and behold, right there on the sheets of paper, people have filled out the address details, told me exactly what they liked and even wrote other nice things which gave me a post exhibition esteem boost. I collated all the results and was surprised to see exactly which artworks people like the most; in this case anything that I’d done with a sea or surfing theme was the star of the show according the votes of the crowd.

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The details that I collected on those forms were the start of my exhibition mailing list and I still have many of those people on my list today.

So to sum up…

  • Make a Favourites Box with a nice big slot in the top, decorate it and label it clearly.
  • Make a form which enables people to choose their exhibition favourites, fill out their contact details and whether they would be willing to consider buying your artwork.
  • Give all exhibition attendees a form and a pencil when they arrive; get your assistants to help you do this as you will be far to busy schmoozing the buyers.
  • Announce the presence of the Favourites Box during speeches and before the prize draw.
  • Collate all the results afterwards on a spreadsheet to see what the actual favourites of the show were.
  • Follow up with those people who indicate that they would be interested in buying your work. Use the favourites that they indicated to guide your marketing.
  • Use the contact list as the basis of a mailing list for future events and exhibitions.

So there you have it…the wonders of the Favourites Box. Don’t just let people think to themselves “Ooh this is lovely, I like this!” – allow them to tell you!