The Laws of Nature

Friday, January 1, 2010

Marketing Our Work

I wasn't going to post this weekend, but felt the urge to start a conversation about marketing. When I wrote a post about New Year's resolutions a little while ago, many of you expressed the desire to more aggressively market your work in 2010. This might be a good time to discuss that and swap ideas.

First of all, be certain that your work is ready to show (see earlier blog on this). First impressions are often lasting impressions. If people associate you with undeveloped or technically flawed work, that impression might be hard to shake later on. Make your first impression a good one!

I'll begin this conversation by briefly describing the strategies I've used that have worked and also some of the ones that I'd like to try in the future.

List 1: What's worked for me

1. Our city hosts an outdoor fine art fair that is high quality and very restrictive. No crafts allowed and only originals may hang for display. Prints and reproductions may be shown, but only in portfolios. I've had huge success with this particular fair for a couple of reasons:

  • I hang only one series at a time to show mastery and consistency.

  • I engage people walking by my booth in friendly chatter that leads them to examine my work, but I do not "pressure sell" ever!
  • My prices are fair, and not underpriced (never undervalue your work!)

  • Last year, I teamed up with a noted sculptor who has tons of clients, and we displayed our work together. I was amazed at the crowd that gathered in our booth and purchased art.

Usually I sell more this one afternoon at the fair than I do for the entire rest of the year. I've also been offered a solo show at a gallery by a director who stopped by my booth, which I accepted. Additionally, I liberally hand-out my well designed business cards and brochures and usually receive calls during the year from new clients.

If you select this method, be very careful about the quality of the fair and try to find those that advertise well and feature mostly fine art. I should also mention that the booth fee for my fair is only $35! Low overhead is a must if you don't expect high volume sales.

2. The internet. I've been fortunate enough to sell directly from my website. However, there are so many scams that you really have to be careful. I've never had a bad experience, but just this weekend someone tried to purchase one of my paintings with a bogus certified check. Luckily, I knew it was a con and called his bluff. Here's a tip: if you decide to sell work from your website, post realistic prices alongside the art with a description of the piece (title, medium, size) and set up a shopping cart through PayPal. Also, remember to charge your clients for shipping and sales tax if applicable. Try not to ship work already framed. Most clients want to select their own frames and it will save you money not to bother.

3. National and Internal juried exhibitions. Over the past couple of years I've sold a number of paintings at juried exhibitions. The prize money they offer helps, too. My work is enhanced at these exhibitions because works are usually hung in a professional manner in a lovely setting along with terrific work by other artists. Most paintings are priced high, and I keep my prices high along with them.

4. Galleries. I rarely work with galleries because they take 50 - 60% of the price and the owners are sometimes difficult to deal with. However, some of my work does sell this way. Be cautious about galleries that ask you to pay them for publicity, opening-night expenses (refreshments), rent for wall space, etc. This is not good. Also, if you decide to work with a gallery, get a contract! Make certain you are paid in a timely manner after your work sells, and make certain that your work is properly displayed.

5. Interior decorators. Often, these professionals need to find art for their clients and are usually happy to keep your brochure or portfolio on hand. At one point, I established a business relationship with a decorator in Jamaica who picked up my paintings by boat from Miami where I shipped them. It was a great system and profitable as well.

6. Referrals. Sometimes people learn about my work through others and contact me to see what's available. It's good to follow-up with these folks because they're usually serious buyers.

7. Keep a high profile. I publicize my name and my work wherever and whenever I can. If people notice that you're a continuous presence in the art world they'll have more confidence in your professionalism and the value of your work. In other words, no one wants to invest in the work of a "one hit wonder." Be obvious, be productive, and be consistent.

List 2: What I'd like to try in the future

1. Internet sites like ebay, Etsy, Folksy, Imagekind, Facebook, RedBubble, 1000 markets, etc. This will take some time to learn, but sales are made on these sites.

2. A reputable gallery in a major metropolitan area like New York City. I've shown in a few galleries in New York over the past several years, but haven't developed a long-term relationship because it's expensive and difficult to spend time in the city trying to get appointments with gallery directors who probably won't be interested, anyway. But, that doesn't mean I won't give it a shot!

What are your ideas???


-Don said...

Hi Kathy,

Wow! You've given me a lot to digest here. Thank you. I don't have anything of value to add to this, yet. Hopefully soon...

P.S. Do you ever sleep?


Carol Schiff Daily Painting said...

Great article, Cathy. I agree with you that art shows are a great way to start without occurring too much expense up front. I do have an Etsy site and find it fast and easy to use and have made many sales from it this year.

I am happy to see that you talked about bring your art to a certain level before jumping in the "marketing pot". I think that is the number one mistake people make with their art.

M said...

Lots of ideas here Kathy. I've set my three improvement areas for the year as Production, Visibility and Revenue. Of course these three are very interconnected. The revenue area means marketing. I sat down last night and created my plan. I have 14 items under my Revenue category. I know too many but I always need a challenge. When I'm in gear, I'm a force to be reckoned with! here are some of my ideas:

In Canada there is a lot of federal and provincial support for the arts through grants. I've been successful in the provincial arena before but the national grants are larger and more difficult to acquire. I plan to attend a workshop session to improve my grant writing skills.

An additional money making avenue for me is to acquire an exhibition in a publicly funded gallery because they pay exhibition fees for showing your work thanks to the hard work of CARFAC a national advocacy group in Canada. These would not be galleries where the work was for sale. Artists make money through exhibition only.

Another area to increase your revenue is reproduction of your work in magazines or on greeting cards. Last year two of my paintings were highlighted in Newfoundland Quarterly. Many magazines pay reproduction fees. Several years ago the provincial fine craft group asked to use two of my images on greeting cards. They paid a reporduction fee based on the size of their run. Thanks again to CARFAC for setting national reproduction fees.

I also plan to teach at least two workshops this year. I have the teaching background and I have skills people are interested in. In connection with this I'm going to R & F paints to do additional training in encaustic. More on this later.

I want to find another gallery in mainland Canada. I've scoped out several I am interested in so submission packages are needed.

I have the added hurdle of living on an island with a small population (500,000). I can't jump in the car and broaden my horizons.
There are few juried exhibition opportunities that I know about but I plan to research this more thoroughly.

I'm exploring on line arenas to market a totally different line of smaller works under a different name. This will be more decorative and less content driven work. I plan to keep the two quite separate. Just beginning to think about how I will make this work.

I'm going to research practical marketing ideas on line and in any good book someone can recommend.

I have several ideas for approaching decorators both here and in larger centers. More on this later.

My final idea is to meet with 5 other artists in my area to have a Think Tank on marketing our work.

The ideas are the easy part.

Unknown said...

Hi Don - I suspect I get more sleep than you do ;-)

Hi Carol - it's good to know that you've had success with Etsy. I'll look into it sometime later this year. And thanks for reaffirming the "being ready" notion. It's really, really important to leave a good first impression. Thanks for your comments!

Hi Margaret - Thanks so much for taking time to share your marketing plan with us! Great ideas!! I forgot to mention grants, so thanks for doing that! I have received grants from New York State, but I don't rely on that as income. I've also reproduced my work for cards and posters, but have stopped. And, I also teach six or more workshops a year and take on private students, but I didn't focus on that in this post because it's about marketing art.

M said...

I got over-excited in my listing because my head was in the revenue category. Sorry for being off topic.

Anonymous said...


This is a wonderful and timely post. My husband and I periodically debate selling on the internet. He has a hard time imagining people buying paintings with out seeing them in person. So, I would love to know more about your on-line sale success if practical.

I'm still trying to figure out Facebook, Etsy, etc. But, wonder if they may not be important in the future.

Neat to see the fair works for you!

Lee Ann said...

More/better marketing is one of my goals for this year as well. I have ruled out art fairs for 2 reasons: most of my work is done in mosaic which takes such a long time to produce that I would have trouble amassing enough to make a booth look occupied, and because I have never located an art fair (that wasn't a crafty thing) that didn't require a fee of $300 or more! Then add in the expense of tables, tent, etc.....too much for me.

My thought is to concentrate on more/better publicity for the coming year. I have in the past sometimes neglected to send press releases to announce acceptance to juried exhibitions. Not because I didn't want to bother, I just didn't think of it! I also plan to see if I get some exposure through feature articles in local and regional publications (since I am represented by a local gallery). Any other thoughts along those lines?

Mark Sheeky said...

Hi Kathy, Interesting post. I'm part of an art group that meets weekly and that's been a really useful resource for all sort of things, from just meeting people and discussing techiques to hearing about local events. Have you hired a venue and held a solo exhibition yourself or with a group? Perhaps that's another option. Here local authorities have an arts budget and commitments to help artists, so lots of public venues such as libraries and town halls are essentially free apart from a reasonable commission on sales (typically 30%). Cafe's, hotels or approaching a fine art publisher are possibles too.

Unknown said...

Hi Margaret - no worries! You added so much too our conversation and I'm thrilled that you did!

Hi Peggy - I used to think the same thing as you: why would anyone buy art from the internet where they can't see it in person first? I assure my internet clients that if they aren't satisfied with the quality of the work after they've received it that they may return it for a full refund less the original shipping costs. I've never had a return, but I still think it's good to offer.

Hi Lee Ann - as you say, it IS difficult to find great outdoor art fairs. The one I attend is rare for its quality and dedication to the fine arts. I think your plan to publicize is a good one. It can really help. Often, people want to meet the artist as they get to know the work. Go got 'em!!

Hi Mark - good suggestions, thank you! It seems that we don't have as much government sponsored financial support for the arts as England or, in Margaret's case, Canada. There's money, but it's getting harding to acquire especially in this economy. I've never hired gallery space, and will only deal with galleries that fully support the artist rather than the other way around. However, we do have co-op galleries in this country that do what you suggested (a group of artists rent space). Maybe some of you have experience with co-ops??? I haven't ever joined on. Thanks for your comments.

Celeste Bergin said...

can't add anything to what you've written...except to say that I go in and out of "caring" whether or not I have sales. I'm currently not caring, (and traditionally that is when I sell more). I understand that we should all do everything we can to advance ourselves--I seem to have spurts of energy in that regard. Great post--!

hw (hallie) farber said...

I don't have much to add. Locally--and initially--I hung my best work (actually my first eight paintings professionally-framed) in my sister-in-law's restaurant (she & my brother had owned a gallery in Pasadena). It was at her suggestion and people valued her opinion. My works were not for sale but hanging them there created interest. (A friend said, "This artist needs help." He didn't realize I was the artist; actually, he's the nut.)

You're right about first impressions being lasting impressions. The restaurant was sold but those customers attend my shows and buy.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - I know what you mean about spurts of energy concerning marketing. About three years ago I decided that I would do at least one thing every day toward marketing - even if it took only ten minutes. For the most part, I've met that goal. There are some days that I'm tied up with family or vacation, but I still try to do something. And, as you say, sales can happen even when we're not trying! That's fun :)

Hi Hallie - great story! Thanks for sharing this. You never know where opportunities will arise and you were smart to take the leap when invited.

Chris Beck said...

Great post, Kathy! I've done two stints in a local co-op gallery and had mixed results. Some things to watch for -- is everybody contributing to the running of the gallery or are some people sitting back and letting others do all the work? -- are the other members supportive of everyone or do they focus strictly on their own work and steer people away from other artists? -- is the location good for foot traffic and visibility? -- does your work fit the profile of the kind of art people expect to find at the gallery? The last item might seem strange for a co-op, but an established gallery will often have an identity due to the work presented by long-term members.

Unknown said...

Hi Chris - great advice! I've no experience with co-op galleries and wasn't aware of the pit-falls. Thanks for the warning!