Tips For Marketing To Strangers While Painting en Plein Air

Artists who work en plein air must deal with natural and self-imposed burdens every time we go out to paint – including the possibility of marketing to strangers.

We load our packs (paints, thinner, brushes, palette, canvas panel, towels, garbage bags, clamps, bungee cords, sunscreen, hat, collapsible umbrella, water and power bars) carry our easels, set up and stand for hours at a time. We are at the mercy of the weather, the land and the ever-changing light.

plein air, backpacking, yellowstone

Lori backpacking with her plein air gear in Yellowstone National Park

If these obstacles weren’t enough, people interrupt us to talk while we are painting! It’s a wonder we get anything done, much less create a body of work to sell.

:)

WAIT…that’s all wrong! We plein air artists have it made – we have a unique marketing and sales advantage over studio artists. We can talk to strangers, and turn them into collectors!

All artists who sell their work need people to buy it. Family, friends and acquaintances may be interested in our art, and they may purchase it. But, it is the people we don’t know who are key to sustaining sales and having an art career.

plein air painting artists

Steven Adams and Shanna Kunz look on as John Horejs paints

So, what about those strangers who “interrupt” us? They are interested, potential collectors with whom we have a marketing opportunity to create a relationship.

Plein Air Petaluma

“Marsh and Mountain” by Linda Rosso

Consider this very typical conversation:

THEM: “Can I see? Nice painting!”

YOU: “Thanks! This is a gorgeous spot to paint.”

THEM: “Yes, it’s one of my favorite views.”

The conversation can then take a variety of turns, depending on what you say next:

(A) “Mine, too. Enjoy your day.”

(B) “I’ll be posting the finished painting on my website. Would you like a business card?

(C) “Would you like a photo of the painting when it’s done? I’ll be happy to email it to you.”

Choose (A), and you have ended the conversation. You have been friendly, but you have not made a business connection.

If you respond with (B), you have created an opening to a relationship. You shared information, and indirectly suggested the other person take action – to look at your website. If they say no, you can say (A) and return to painting.

By selecting (C), you are in the best position to create a relationship. You are offering something, and it exchange, you may get something – the email address of someone open to knowing more about you and your art. If they decline, you can revert to (B) and offer a business card. If they decline, say (A) and get back to painting.

The next time you are in the field, give it a try. The small risk of engaging in a conversation may offer a reward. And you might consider adding an empty box to your plein air pack – you might sell a wet canvas to a stranger right off your easel!

Guest artist/author: Linda Rosso is a painter, author of Art Marketing Basics (www.artistmarketingguide.com) and blogs at Plein Air Liaison DIY (www.pleinairliaisondiy.blogspot.com)

*****

…and for those of you who don’t want to chat with spectators while painting, here’s a tip: When American painter T. Allen Lawson doesn’t want to talk with strangers, he will  quickly put a paintbrush between his teeth! He says it works every time… 😉

Let’s also meet on Facebook  – Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page, on Twitter, Google Plus and on PinterestYou might want to check out and my fine art prints and notecards on Fine Art America and here’s my art website,  LoriMcNee.com. Thanks for visiting my blog, ~Lori

42 Comments

  1. Dave Casey March 2, 2013 at 4:39 am

    A brush between the teeth. I’ll have to remember that. I just hope I to use a clean one for that. 🙂

    • Lori McNee June 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Haha! Yes, the brush works…thanks Dave. Sorry for the late reply!

  2. Connie Nobbe March 2, 2013 at 7:18 am

    I discovered this benefit of plein air painting on my first “paint out” this past fall (I’m still a rookie). A friendly guy stopped by and talked to me while I was painting, and I told him about the sale in the library that would be happening at the end of the week. He came to the sale and bought my painting. He said he bought it because it meant something to him…he saw it being painted and he enjoyed our conversation.

    I like how plein air painting has that unique advantage over studio painting. It can turn a passerby into an art collector. It’s good for them and it’s good for us.

    Thanks for your tips!

    • Linda Rosso March 2, 2013 at 11:06 am

      Congratulations, Connie!

  3. Leah March 2, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Lori,
    Thanks for this great tip. Occasionally I will paint while I’m at an art show. I’ll definitely change my dialogue with potential collectors after reading this.

    • Lori McNee June 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm

      Glad this post helped you Leah! Happy painting, and marketing…

  4. Paula March 2, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Excellent tip Lori. I think offering that personal touch of offering to send them a photo of the finished painting is so right on. Wouldn’t hurt to have a few biz cards in your painting kit as well.

    You could also offer to have their picture taken with you and the painting using their phone camera. You can bet they will share it with all their friends immediately.

    • Lori McNee June 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      I like your additional photo op idea! Thanks for sharing your comment here.

      Happy painting!

  5. Diane Overmyer March 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for this post. I have loved plein air painting for so many reasons, but one of the top is because of the interesting people that I meet while I am painting. And yes, thankfully some of those people have become collectors! I really like both answer B and C. I am wondering if you or other artists have ever actually been able to get folks to leave their email address with you on the spot.

    • Lori McNee June 18, 2013 at 1:37 pm

      Hi Diane, nice to see you here. It’s good to hear that B and C are helpful to you. I often keep a guest book with me and ask the friendly folks to sign it. 🙂

    • Keith Bond December 4, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      I have gotten lots of emails on the spot. I have them write it down in my sketchbook where I do my thumbnails. When they leave, I write a note or two to remember our conversation and something about the person.

      • Lori McNee January 20, 2014 at 12:27 am

        Hi Keith, thanks for stopping by. It’s fun to see you here. I like your tip for writing notes in your sketchbook. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  6. Arthur March 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I too discovered the unexpected benefits not only with plein aire but even more so when painting murals. I incorporate realisim and trompe loeil into my work and it sometimes gets overwhelming when painting in public. However each time I do this I am sure to land a commission or two whether it be a canvas piece or a large mural. As a decorative artist and my versatility sometimes I will land a wood graining and marbling job….I love plein aire painting for all these reasons and am able to paint while conversing with on lookers.

  7. Tien Ngo March 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    I’m just curious, what does it take to become one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter?” I can see “influential,” or “most followed,” but “most powerful?” What power do you have?

    • Lori McNee March 5, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Hello Tien, I am curious about that too! But Seriously, I’ve made the list but I think ‘Powerful’ is a bit extreme too. However, it is still kind of cool to be on that list. 😉 I don’t have any special powers, maybe just some great networking skills. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here…
      Lori 🙂

  8. Sue Pownall March 8, 2013 at 11:57 pm

    What a fabulous tip THANK YOU!!!!

    • Linda Rosso March 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm

      Thanks, Sue — good luck out there!

  9. Robert Britton Jr March 11, 2013 at 8:04 am

    What a great article and great advice!

    I’ve not yet experienced someone being negative with me or my painting while I’ve been plein air painting. Quite the opposite in fact. Passers by are often so upbeat and positive to see a painter out doors that it’s such a great experience for them. their energy flows into me and makes me feel wonderful!

    I am a pretty extroverted person. But you give some tips I never had thought of. Thanks for sharing your (B) and (C) answers. That’s a great way to keep trying to build those relationships with those potential buyers out there!

    Thank you so much, Lori!

    • Lori McNee June 11, 2013 at 7:21 am

      I truly appreciate your positive feedback here. Being an extroverted person will always come in handy. I’m sure you will great success at trying these tips while marketing in the field. Happy Painting, Lori

  10. Cindy G. March 26, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Lori,

    I decided to get a small set of paints and brushes for the first time. So, one day I was practicing with colors and experimenting with brushes and decided to paint from another painting I found from another artist. I wanted to just play around with paints and brushes not to be serious about it. I didn’t sign it, since it’s not mine. My friend saw it one day and wants to buy it from me. I didn’t expect her to like it. But I told her I don’t know. I want to do the right thing. I feel as though selling it would be very very wrong. Lori, what can I say to my friend? What can I do? Please let me know. I want to do the right thing.

    Cindy

    • Lori McNee June 18, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Hello Cindy, thanks for your honesty! Although it is ok to copy other artists for our own learning, we shouldn’t sell something that is a direct copy. The best way to make a copy is to sign it, “Cindy after Richard Schmid” … and even then, it shouldn’t be sold. That is what I advise. Good luck!

  11. Ronald Lee Oliver May 3, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Good advice, I’ve run out of business cards during a painting and never thought about asking if they would like me to email them a photo. I wouldn’t want to put a paintbrush in my mouth, though–that’s a good way to ingest cadmium, chromium, quinacridone and a host of other nasty chemicals, including the lead paint from the handle of the brush!

  12. amherst real estate June 1, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    Currently it looks like BlogEngine is the
    best blogging platform out there right now.

    (from what I’ve read) Is that what you’re using
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    • Lori McNee June 10, 2013 at 2:12 pm

      No, this is a WordPress site and I am very happy with that platform…

  13. L Diane Johnson July 28, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Hi Lori,

    Love this post!

    The one I always get is, “How long did it take you to paint that?” Which usually translates as, “The price should be comparable to the amount of time spent on a painting.”

    As you and I both know that is NOT the case. That is why many folks will not buy pieces over $75, if it only took the plein air artist (for instance) just an hour to paint. Yet, the piece may be worth at least a few thousand to those who “know” the artist’s work.

    A book could be written (I’ve considered it) about this very topic.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment. Great topic!

    Diane

    • Lori McNee October 24, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Hello Diane and thanks for your comment. I have had a wonky summer and am way behind on answering…so thank you for your patience. Yes, that is such a common question we are asked while out painting. Many onlookers are shocked when they find out a painting that took an hour or two to paint can cost $500 or more! Thanks for your thoughts…

      • Laura Fischer Saxon November 25, 2013 at 5:22 pm

        Love your comments! I’ve given lots of business cards out while painting and almost got a double portrait commission on the spot, but I didn’t have another canvas on me at the time! Generally I’m a studio artist, but I don’t mind taking commmissions on the spot! I love your idea of emailing them the picture of the finished painting! Very Smart!!

        A lot of people will spend a lot on a nice dinner out once a year or more, but don’t want to spend it on a painting. Intelligent people of taste know that they have made an investment in beauty that can last a lifetime or more! Hooray for our collectors!!

        • Lori McNee December 1, 2013 at 10:57 pm

          Hi Laura, thanks for sharing your plein air marketing success story here in the comments. It’s great to get our of the studio and into the field where we can visit with people and paint at the same time!

    • Keith Bond December 4, 2013 at 8:34 pm

      Not everyone who asks ‘How long did that take to paint?’ is really saying the price is too high. Most people are intrigued by working artists and are often simply very curious about the process. Just as the example in the post gives you several response options to the short conversation, there are also several ways to respond to this question. Don’t get defensive or assume that they are calculating the cost per hour in their head. Yes, some are, but not everyone is. Use the opportunity to gain a new fan through friendly conversation. And educate them in the process.

      • Lori McNee January 20, 2014 at 12:30 am

        Keith, that is a level headed way of thinking! Thanks for making a point of this. Yes, artists often take every comment to heart and personally. Then things can get misconstrued. Educating our fans is a soft-marketing approach that shouldn’t be overlooked. Great comment!

    • Angie McIntosh November 6, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      When I have been asked how long it took me to paint a plein air painting I answer with “30 years to develop the skills complete this painting”.

      That usually shuts them up.

      • Lori A McNee May 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm

        Angie, many apologies for the belated reply!! That is a great answer…

  14. Pauly Tamez December 3, 2013 at 9:04 am

    I do a lot of plein air painting where there are a lot of people around (I love an audience). Inevitably, someone will comment, ” I wish I could do that,” or “I could never do that.” I load up a brush or my palette knife with color, hand it to them, and say, “Put that color right here…” Kids love it! Most adults are hesitant, but I encourage them by saying, “You can’t mess it up!” and hand them the brush. Most people are surprised what a stroke of a brush or knife can do.
    I’ll use the offer to send a picture. It’s a good way to add someone to my monthly newsletter too! Great blog!

    • Lori McNee February 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

      That is a cool idea, Pauly! I bet those people do love it. What a great way to connect and add to your newsletter list. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Sharon December 4, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Love the tips on conversations. I’ve done B but never thought of C – and LOVE the photo idea! I would like to add that I’ve also had some success with sending a print of the painting on a thank-you card in those instances where I’ve asked the owner’s permission to paint on a property. The owner can always frame the card, but often they will want the actual painting … especially if its done at a second/seasonal property.

    • Lori McNee January 20, 2014 at 12:34 am

      I’ve had luck with your suggestion too. Once in that past, I even gave the owner the painting. It was of an old 1800’s Idaho barn that was bought by some developers. An elderly man stopped by to watch me paint. He went onto tell me that he was born in that old homestead that was going to be torn down. I ended up giving him my painting. His smile made me happier than money. 🙂

  16. Jill Pratzon December 5, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I’m hopping on this discussion late, but whenever I’m asked how long it took to create something, I answer with my age. All our experience plus our talent plus honed skills equal our ability. Great post, Lori.

    • Lori McNee January 20, 2014 at 12:26 am

      That is a good way to respond, except I don’t like to tell my age anymore – haha! Thanks Jill 🙂

  17. Sylvio Gagnon December 6, 2013 at 7:08 am

    Hi Lori,
    Thanks for the interesting post. I am a proponent of plein air painting because this is my best way to meet people and potential customers. I get more bang for my palette when I paint en plein air than to show in a gallery. Old Chinese saying: “Go to the people instead of the people coming to you.” Best regards.

    • Lori McNee January 20, 2014 at 12:35 am

      Hi Sylvio, I love that old Chinese saying…and I agree! Or this, “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it!” – Jonathan Winters 🙂

    • Joshua Lance February 26, 2015 at 10:20 pm

      Your comment is some of the best advice I’ve seen and I agree. Being outdoors, you’re most likely to attract the right people. When you’re in a gallery, people are afraid to come in for the most part. I like this style of marketing by far!

Comments are closed.