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Leeds Artsmix – Six Images, Six Lessons

It’s 6:30pm on Saturday evening. We – myself and fellow photographer Anthony Shaughnessy ( – start to dismantle our stall at the Leeds Artsmix Market ( As we pack we discuss the events of the day. We’re both smiling! Anthony had his best return to date; I’ve sold six images – six more than I expected! …And its a real buzz.  As we part we’re in agreement to return next month, but as a novice I know I’ve much to learn and improve. Driving home I reflect on the day,  associating each of the six images sold with a lesson learned.

1) Selling took real engagement. Discussing the subject: where it was shot; how it was shot; what equipment was used; it’s backstory; how you’d frame it; why the customer was drawn to it; all created a context where ownership of the image passed from the photographer to the customer. Passive inaction just didn’t hack it, and I think that’s true whether selling in person or over the internet (note to self that I need to completely redesign my website!). The funny thing was that even if I didn’t end up with a sale I still enjoyed the conversation!

2) Different customers have different tastes. Anthony’s portfolio was largely composed of natural landscapes, mine were more stylised. At first we mixed the images but gradually began to separate them out. Customers generally migrated to one style or the other, with surprisingly little cross over between the two! Next time out we’ll set out our display with cohesive collections from the start.

3) Take a broad range of images. You can’t second guess what the market wants! I pitched up with a limited collection and multiple copies. Anthony took a far wider variety. Each image I sold was different and I missed at least two selling opportunities simply because I didn’t have a wider selection at hand. Anthony’s biggest sale was an image of St Ives, 400 miles away in Cornwall!

4) Price depends on context. An image may be worth a couple of hundred in a high end exhibition with a captured audience, but at an Artsmix market in Leeds targeting random passers by? Be prepared to experiment with prices and to haggle, but don’t undersell your work. I dropped my prices in the morning but I honestly don’t know whether this made any real difference to what I sold.

5) Presentation is key.  Making the image look special through: professional mounting; framing; subject and shooting information; creating an individual handcrafted look; all add to the experience, value and price. Compared to Anthony’s presentation mine lacked that handcrafted touch! And as our mantra became “a chance to own a unique, handprinted artwork” my packaging looked more and more like I’d picked them up at Ikea that morning!

6) Have the courage to stick to your artistic convictions. An immediate, almost panic, reaction to the days events was to widen my portfolio with more natural landscapes; the style than Anthony had sold. With two distinct customer types why not broaden my appeal and sell to both? That night I hunted through hundreds of images to build a collection of UK landscapes … but, but, but … all the time I had a niggle; though ok in themselves they were no longer what I wanted to publish or sell. The day had re-enforced where I’d evolved to as a photographer; what my style had become; and that’s what I’ll stick to!

Final Lesson

Stepping out from behind the anonymity of the internet to deal face-to-face with the public – listening to their comments and insights; discussing camera choices and techniques;  understanding their inspirations – proved to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience … and our fellow stall holders were a great bunch: all creative; all skilled artists; all making a living through what they enjoyed; all true entrepreneurs; and all pretty chilled, helpful and supportive. So the final killer lesson is not to hide your talent under a bushel; instead get your artwork out into the open air. Give it a go, I guarantee you won’t regret it!

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