Do Art Demos Detract from the Purpose? < Deep Thought Thursday

Caryl Hancock Demonstrates Her Marbling Technique
Artist Caryl Hancock demonstrates her marbling technique.

Artist Caryl Hancock needs your insight and experience.

As an artist who does art shows, I am often asked to demonstrate my art process, which is marbling. It is fun, and an attention grabber – so much so that people get caught up in the demo and forget to peruse the items for sale, despite my calling their attention to the merchandise. The other thing that happens is that (usually a child) wants to “make a paper, please,” and a line of kids and adults instantly forms and seems sometimes to never end.

Caryl says she enjoys the interaction with people interested in her technique, but is disappointed that the demonstrations don't lead to sales – not even small sales of a 4-pack of cards or a pair of socks.
She prepares a 1-page handout on the process with her contact information to promote her teaching. Not much has come from that either.
Everyone wants to try their hands at the technique and wants to take home their free piece of marbled paper. No one wants to buy.
How can Caryl turn this into a moneymaker?

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33 thoughts on “Do Art Demos Detract from the Purpose? < Deep Thought Thursday”

  1. I do demonstrations for mosaic making.
    When people come to my studio as groups I charge them per person for demonstrations.
    When I demonstate at an art fair and people want to have a go I charge them. Put up a sign . Have a go for $5.00 or $10.00 dollars, refundable if you sign and pay up for a class.
    You should charge to have a go. That way they arent doing it for free.

  2. Caryl may be giving away too much at once. The idea of a demo is to get people interested, not tell all. If it turns into a class, she should be charging. No handouts–save those for class. No others doing it–save it for a class–she can have a sign-up sheet ready to direct people. Also, it’s hard to sell and demo at the same time, do one or the other. Just my thoughts!

  3. Jackie Poutasse

    I am a bookbinder and I find that demonstrations don’t lead to sales either unless I am at an art/craft show. At just demos I will usually get some interest for my upcoming classes. If you’re there to promote your class/workshops there is no reason you can’t tell visitors that “you’re not setup for hands on but please take a sheet that lists my upcoming classes/workshops”. Unless I am specifically hired by a venue to do a make it and take it demo I don’t offer to let visitors make anything.

  4. Caryl is definitely giving too much away at once and expecting too much from the wrong market. First, the people who eagerly watch but don’t purchase art are clearly only interested in learning the technique and not in owning any art. She will have to try to find and reach art buyers with a different approach; she is currently finding and reaching art students.
    Now, her approach to the students must change to make this a money maker. The demos are grabbing a lot of potential but they are slipping away with all of their needs satisfied and Caryl left empty-handed. This is what I’d recommend to Caryl. Enlist a helper to stand by with a sign-up sheet. During and especially after the demo, make a pitch that if the people will give their contact info you will send them the handout (or better yet email them a link to a pdf version of it). Now, when a child wants to “make a paper”, politely tell them that you offer a class where children can come and make them and once again, if they sign-up, you will happily send them your current schedule (this is preferable to just handing them a flyer of your current schedule as they might lose it or even toss it and you will have no means to follow-up or remind). Once you have them signed-up, now you have a contact list of interested “students” and you should market to them with an emphasis on your classes and instruction as well as announce new art and venues.
    As far as art buyers go, you obviously aren’t reaching them through your demos, you will have to get creative and look elsewhere for them, but you are still reaching a lot who want to learn about what you do and classes, instructional e-books, etc. are things you can sell – you don’t have to give everything away!

  5. Over 20+ years of shows and teaching, I too find that when I demo spinning at my booth, people are too interested in that and telling their stories about people in their families who had spinning wheels etc. to buy. I now leave my wheel at home. I am a firm believer in educating and passing history to our kids, but at the prices we now pay for a show booth, sales are the primary focus. Also, sometimes the crowds that were attracted to the demos interfered with the traffic at other booths, which you certainly don’t want to do.

  6. Make people pay something. They will suck you dry if you let them and all for free! I do Farmers Markets (sell meat) and Knitting Shows (promote and sell my knitting books). I do not demo because if I am demo-ing I cannot sell. It’s hard to say no when people ask me but I have learned over the years to ask them how much they will be paying me for the demo before I promise anything. If they pay me enough, I may think about demo-ing.

  7. I would schedule a demo time and keep it fairly short. Promote the demo time as you would any other event, but make sure that it doesn’t conflict with the peak times of visitors to the show. I’ve never worked the art fair circuit, so I don’t really know how that would work with a schedule for that kind of event, but for an exhibition being held at a venue like a gallery, you can set up a demo for earlier in the day before the opening and if you want to be really wild and crazy, maybe even a gallery talk. Make the opening reception evening into a day of events. Or a weekend. That way you’re breaking up the different aspects of your business – demo for teaching, gallery talk to illuminate existing work, and then the opening reception to celebrate and sell.

  8. I think there is some excellent advice in here for Caryl. I’ve done demos for my galleries. Some inside (where the gallery directory can do the selling) and some out in front where people are milling about the town square and I am the only point of contact. Doing a demo DOES draw interest whereas if you aren’t doing a demo people may pass you by completely. I usually stop what I’m doing if someone approaches and talk to them and invite them to sign up for my e newsletter or discuss works that are already completed, talk about the process but don’t really do much while they are there. I know an artist that would bring a watercolor that was 95% finished and then just take a brush with just a touch of water on it and act like she was really working. Then she’d stop and chat with anyone who approached.
    I definitely wouldn’t allow people to try it, save that for a class.
    Good Luck!

  9. I agree with everyone that Caryl is giving too much away. Its great that you want to share, but the demo needs to be a way of enticing people to do a workshop. If you are going to give handouts, they should be about your workshops and art, or perhaps even an incentive to spend – small amount of money off voucher, or perhaps a discount if they book a workshop there and then!

  10. “Edutainment”.
    Yes, you’re teaching, and entertaining. Your art is the silent audience behind you. I’ve done outdoor shows for over 30 years and no longer do them for a lot of reasons, but have felt I could more positively use my time in them by painting. “The real working artist” was my thinking, and it was a good one.
    But the word “edu-tainment” was given to me by another artist who said that to work in your booth detracted from sales. People like being entertained and get distracted from the whole idea that you’re there to sell something.
    Caryl’s work (from the image) looks easy enough to do, and so there is a tendency for people to want to do it, too. I like the suggestion to charge for a try, and then have signups for a quickly-happening workshop. Delving into peoples’ need to create is a good way to have an income stream.
    Edutainment, unless you’re able to engage the viewers in the end results, evaporates sales.

  11. Could Caryl sell kits? Also with demos, people look at the process and say “my kid could do that” and Caryl allows them to do it. Why would somone purchase something if they can see in a blink of an eye that their kid can do it?! Create a “mystery” regarding the process/result, almost like a well-known chef who leaves out a key ingredient in a recipe that he/she hands out to the public.

  12. I like that Caryl is sharing and interested in passing on knowledge but from her business standpoint I don’t see the advantage to demo at all. You’re passing on your secrets to enable potential buyers to do it themselves, and in some cases maybe even create competition. I don’t mean to sound cynical but I think that Caryl took the time to seek out & develop / hone techniques to do something well that she should profit and not just give it away. I say show and talk about the work/results and charge for the inside class if they want to learn and have a go. Not to mention those “have a go’s” are costing her time, and materials.

  13. The artist’s co-op I belong to discovered that when we do a demo event, not even on site at the shop, in the long run it is one of the best ways to promote the shop and does add to sales down the road. That being said, my own experience is similar to Caryl’s. Over the years I have decided that if it is an event that requires a demo that if possible I hire some one to handle the selling portion of the work for the weekend. If that isn’t possible for whatever reason, I do as much of the “demo” on paper (this year by digital slide show) as possible. Pictures of the steps with some step by step etc. Then I only have to have a small amount of materials not to mention space. If asked for people to participate I hand them a class schedule or ask them to sign up for a newsletter if I don’t have any scheduled. The thing is, even though it may not lead to an immediate sale and definitely does split your attention from selling, this sort of thing does make you memorable so it is not a total loss but I only do it when required or under certain circumstances.

  14. I think the crowd watching her demo is elbowing out her potential buyers. Viewers of the demo think they can now produce their own artwork and won’t want to buy hers.
    Like other have suggested, sell a booklet of her work process. Better yet, sell DVDs of her work process and a small starter kit. Or perhaps have a small sample card of her work in a little packet with a discount code to a future class or on-line course. Having this on the side will allow room for the serious buyers.

  15. Hard to add much to so many great comments! BUT…I know that while it is important in some situations to “demo” or at least be working on something, it is only the carrot – the stick is my work and that is what I concentrate on completely at the weekly show I have been doing for years. Sales and the thought of purchasing anything are a fleeting and sometimes vaporous moment that can can get overridden by the slightest distraction. THIS demo is a BIG distraction.
    So Caryl needs to set her goals and take actions for the goals. Does she want sales or clients for her workshops? If she wants sales as the first priority, then she needs to attend to that.
    Here is what I advise for my clients and artist friends: have a small DVD player off to one side that has a looping 5 min demo on it and a sign-up sheet beside it would be a simple way to “demo” silently in the background while meanwhile giving as close to 100% of her energy and time to selling. Even taking money for kids to “play” is far too distracting. Have them (well the parent(s)) sign-up for a kid’s only class.
    I don’t know if it applies to Caryl – only she can know this in her heart – but for many artists, it can be a comfort zone issue: they don’t have to sell if they can demo and even though they want sales, they are so uncomfortable with the selling process, they fall into a demo mode hoping THAT will make a sale. It won’t. Really – it won’t.
    Meanwhile, if you think you might have this issue, Caryl, you may want to go to a few shows without doing a demo? Check your gut on this idea. If it feels scary, you may just need to DO IT and learn to sell and be comfortable in that skin – then get the DVD going later.

  16. Caryl, it seems that the interaction, which is the relationship builder for students and collectors, becomes about the process rather than your art. Alyson had a recent post about developing a glossary for how to talk about your art, and using those suggestions to develop your discussion about your work may help move the focus to sales.

  17. She can do a MITI – a Make It Take It – where for a nominal fee (say $15) she teaches the audience, in 30 minutes, to make their own piece of paper which they get to take home. She can limit the participation to 6 people. These people all doing what she is demonstrating will draw bigger crowd, who will probably buy some paper, but will very likely sign up for courses.
    And she can offer a 5-10% discount coupon courses to the people who have paid for the MITI. Who doesn’t want to learn more after tasting it in the MITI? And at a discount?
    I know this for a fact – it works, I’ve done it. At a minimum I always got 1-2 people to sign up and pay for a full course right after taking the MITI! They sell the courses for you to the rest of the audience :-).

  18. Why not charge for using your supplies? If they like creating their own art, charge them for the paper, and price it so that it covers the cost of your demonstration with a small profit.
    I also think there is some merit to the point that demonstrating the technique may be making the art seem less valuable if onlookers think they can just do it themselves. If sharing the process is important to you, then let them pay for that experience of getting involved. If selling your own work is important, maybe it would be wise to let there be more mystery around your technique.

  19. Thank you! thank you! First to Alyson for posting this and to all who took the time to think about this and comment. Lots of great thoughts! I never thought about “if a kid can do this…” detracting from the art. Setting up for a demo is about as labor intensive as setting up for a class. Why not be paid? You are right! I have had folks return the following year with their paper proudly framed and want to do another! Booth space is too expensive not to have it work for you. And being more proactive and assertive would also be good for me, as well as setting goals – selling and/or teaching?
    Thank you all, for verifying my experience and giving my thinking some new directions. I will consider a DVD loop. Most of my demos were in shows where there was a central checkout, but if I do this in the future, I will definitely have a helper.

    1. My experience with any looping video, slide show kind of thing in a booth has proven to be just another distraction from the art and the decision making process of buying the art. If there is sound it can be annoying/distracting to nearby exhibitors.
      You’ve received much good feedback here. Keep your spirit of sharing but find another place to do it, rather than at a show.
      I have enjoyed sharing my processes through photos and videos on my website, facebook business page, and even YouTube. I think it enhances the appreciation of what I do to share the processes. People do seem to respond to the demos by gaining more respect for the artform. When they see what goes into it, from supplies to processes they gain a greater appreciation of the work and artistry and respect that they probably could not do it themselves.

  20. A interesting postscript to this discussion: my email inbox just had an invitation from the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville, WA, to three free painting demos,1 to 2 hours each – refreshments included! Obviously their purpose is to drum up business for their classes.

  21. Here is my idea: doing a video of her demo and having it play on a computer screen in an endless loop. Make it short and sweet. That will free her up to have interactions with the people about her art for sale.

  22. Demos are usually requested by a lot of people, not necessarily clients. Sometimes just friends or contacts. Maybe you could use platforms like online videos to promote a “teaser” of what your workshop or artwork could offer. I agree with some of the comments above in the sense that demos are supposed to entice people to pursue something you want them to do. When I do demos for sculpture, I usually explain that the casting process is very long and even the clay modeling can take up to 7 days in the studio. What I show them is the most that I can do within the time-frame of an hour or two, then I just give a brief continuation of the process.

  23. As I approach my first show at the end of this month, I found this blog posting and the comments extremely helpful. I was armed with demo blocks and step-by-step examples of my printmaking — and I’m going to leave them all at home. My experience with demos at a local gallery is the same as others — no additional sales.
    When I told my family about what I had been reading, my 15 year old daughter remarked, “Well I guess you have to act like you are in your own small art gallery, rather than you own studio.” Studio feels more comfortable, but the studio is where things sell. Point taken! Thanks everyone!

  24. If the shows Carol is participating in are Art Shows or Art Fairs, she might try a different kind of show.
    Depending on her location, testing her demos and products at a craft show/trade show catering to scrapbooking, art journaling, jewelry, quilting or mixed media arts could get her better results for both product sales and teaching opportunities.
    Marbling is a fascinating art. The trick is to find the market who can appreciate the creative output and want to buy the finished pieces-either as they are or to use within their own projects.
    Another option would be at a gift-oriented show. Live demos would draw attention and be the perfect place to sell these unique pieces. Marbled items are perfect gift items as they are tasteful, yet gender neutral depending on the item.
    Although giving away a full marbled sheet is a lovely way to share with her audience, what if Carol keeps the sheets she makes at the show for future products? She can offer “custom sheets for sale while you wait” by having signs at her booth. (What papercrafting artist wouldn’t love that?)
    She could still make a smaller take away to use at the show such as a book mark (postcard, swatch, magnet) which could be stamped or stickered with Carol’s contact information and an online venue where products can be purchased.

  25. Again, thank you to all for your insight and perception! I was beginning to think about a looping slide show, and was interested to hear that called a distraction as well. I might try that anyway (since I already have the slides and the frame) at the next show, and see what happens. Another way to say this is that people often do not respect what they get for free!
    In “Selling for Dummies” by Tom Hopkins, the author talks about not losing control of the demo, and that is indeed what was happpening.
    Many thanks again!

    1. Caryl,
      A small screen DVD player (cheap to buy!) set away from your main show area – corner of a table? – should only distract those who are not buyers anyway, but can give your area a place where people “gather” so that can bring in more people who wonder what the fuss is all about. No volume. Just a slide show. If it “feels” like it is distracting – you can always just close the cover or even remove it, of course. But your art form seems to BEG for a little demo? Not everyone has seen the steps involved and as they say: a picture is worth a thousand words!

  26. If I understand this correctly, she is doing demos at art shows. This means her audience may or may not actually do art. Carol marine sells all her demos. Maybe with a painting, people like it or not. They are taking a workshop so evidently they like her style or would not be in the class.
    Here we have someone making marbled paper. What do you do with it? Hmmm? Frame it and hang it on the wall?????Use it for scrap booking?? I think she would make more sales if she did a demo, let it dry and then turned it into a greeting cards or something. But then again, is there a “demand” for marbeled paper as a product?

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