How many of you are, have been, our would like to be, professional artists? Or, just would like to make your art more profitable, show more, etc? Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you’ll chime in on this discussion.
I interviewed four artists from Red Bubble, http://www.redbubble.com (the Print On Demand–POD art website we are all on), who frequently discussed the business of art there. They were all asked the same questions about how they promoted themselves, where they thought the gallery business was going, if sales were up or down, how much of their “working” time was spent actually creating art vs the business chores of art, and if they had any advice for other artists wishing to make art their day job, too.
The artists are:
Janis Zroback, from Canada: http://www.redbubble.com/people/paintability
Janis is an innovative artist whose intensely hued watercolors are distinctive to her style whether she’s painting abstractly, or more realistically. She has numerous professional accomplishments under her belt. Janis frequently journals on Red Bubble about the business of art.
Anita Inverarity, from the UK: http://www.redbubble.com/people/anitainverarity
Anita’s fanciful line work depicts animals and people, and is often delicately and expertly hand colored. Her work is being very well received in her new career as a professional artist.
Regina Valluzzi, from the USA: http://www.redbubble.com/people/rvalluzzi
Regina’s colorful style incorporates mixed media and textural elements, and like the others is a recognizable style on Red Bubble. She is very in tune with the business aspect of art, in her approach to selling, promoting herself, and keeping records.
Lynnette Shelly, from the USA: http://www.lynnetteshelley.com/
Lynnette has been working professionally for just a few years, but from her journals on Red Bubble, it is clear she is succeeding at the business of art. Her paintings and drawings often depict animals and dragons, in ink, paint, and sometimes metallic materials.
A common thread among these artists is that their work is unique, has a recognizable style, and is well done. Plus, they all have worked hard to learn self marketing, and have spent the time to apply it!
The Questions I asked them all, (and will interject my own thoughts on as well):
1. What everyone wants to know it seems is, are sales down all over as far as you can tell?
2. Where do your sales come from, e.g. galleries, online, word of mouth, private sales…what?
3. Have you noticed changes in the way things sell or what you have to do to earn a living as an artist now, compared to say 10 or 20 yrs go or even 5?
4. Approx what percent of your “working” time is spent on creating vs spent on marketing or other business details?
5. What do you think the future is going to be like for artists? Do you believe galleries will need to change, or that online is the way to go, or???
6. What are some key points about art careers that you would call, things to do right, and mistakes to avoid, for those starting out or still struggling?
Janis indicated her sales were doing well. Her sales come from all over the world, mostly online and private sales. She has continued to work hard to promote herself, particularly in social media in recent years.
She said she spends more time on marketing, than on actually creating, and “that it’s just the way it has to be.”
Janis noted that many galleries were closing, and artists taking things into their own hands. More galleries were also moving online. Putting art on other products like iPhone cases, etc, is a reality now, too, but for the artist to decide. She noted that, “Salvador Dali put his art on everything under the sun and no one cared…throughout the centuries artists have done whatever it took to earn a living and they still do…nothing wrong with that.”
Janis had these Do’s and Don’ts for artists:
- Do work, work, work, at your chosen field, every day.
- Join the conversation, participate, otherwise no one will know you’re there.
- Don’t ever say there is no time…there is always time.
Anita is the newest to being an art business person, but she has made amazing progress, so I wanted to be sure to get her input.
Her sales have been up, and she feels this is largely due to expanding her outlets and exhibiting a lot in the past year. She has gotten the impression from other professionals and gallery owners that it has been a particularly hard year for artists. Her sales are about equally split between galleries, online, and private sales, and all are equally important to her. Though she did not have a wide span of years to compare with, she felt that the biggest change for her this past year was social media, particularly Facebook, where she has gotten some sales from.
Anita also spends half her working time on non-creative chores like book keeping, maintaining her websites, marketing, and more. She felt that effective time management was something to work on, to help with this, because as most artists do, she also prefers to spend her time creating. She says, “I’m not sure that people realize all the other activity that goes into being a full time artist.”
Anita believes galleries will always be an important selling outlet, for the face to face service that isn’t available online. Galleries also help build an artist’s career with confidence and credentials. She felt that galleries needed to have a strong online presence, too, not just artists. Small galleries, she said, often combined other services such as framing or gifts. Anita used the word “sustainability,” which is one I feel hits the nail on the head, too. But, she said, art has to remain the focus. She says, “I firmly believe that all artworks have a buyer out there, they just have to come across it and see it so the key for me is just getting the work seen in as many places as possible.”
- Be a part of local art groups, as well as online art communities.
- Talk with fellow artists and share information, support one another.
- Value yourself and your art. Take it seriously.
- Avoid underpricing your work.
- Spend on good quality framing and presentation.
- Work hard and above all, enjoy what you do.
Regina’s sales are also up! She started selling during the worst of the recession, and things improved for her since. She sees the art market as segmented, lots of smaller markets, based on different venues and types of buyers. Some segments were hit harder by the recession than others. (Her ability to analyze and recognize these segments and what is working, could be why her efforts led to increased sales.) She mentions unconventional wisdom that says a recession can actually be a good time to start up your business. There may be more resources available, you’re forced to be creative and agile, and you develop good business practices right from the start. Unlike those who do well in a bubble, but then cannot survive the pop.
Regina represents herself, and her sales come from all over, so she does not feel any venues are insignificant enough to discount them. Her buyers find her through POD sites, blogs, exhibits in alternative spaces, social networks, her newsletter, art fairs, and networking. She does not feel prepackaged sites, (POD sites would be one of those), are enough on their own. She has her own commerce-friendly site.
Creating a “power triangle of online real estate” is advice she has learned about and found success with. It includes your own website, a fully integrated blog, and a newsletter. She said your social media sites need to drive traffic to those three important points of the triangle. This is a way to build your traffic network.
Regina cautioned against taking to heart too much of the canned information online about art marketing, (and I agree there is a lot of it out there that’s obvious or not of much real use).
She spends about half her time, too, working at the business of art, leaving the other half for making it. Activities like shopping for materials, shipping things, and setting up exhibits, are part of the business that has to get done.
She does not feel brick and mortal galleries will ever go away, but does feel there may be fewer of them, with the most successful ones being the survivors. She feels using the internet may be a bit less important for galleries than for some businesses, but it does have importance. Why? The digitized presentation is more of a preview, and falls short of the real thing. She does feel galleries need to learn to use the internet, and have a quality site. The Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown was an example of a good gallery site. She said, “They need good websites because without a website you don’t exist in the 21st Century world. But what they really need to do is to understand the next generation of collectors, and develop ways of cultivating the pool of young new collectors and future potential collectors.”
Regina acknowledged the many tools for self representing artists now, but that there is a lack of robust networks for serious professional artists. Websites are not tailored to each artist but are of a type that is destined to stay small, or are like “great big boxes–everyone jump in and try not to drown. … As the software developers and entrepreneurs catch on to the realities of representing artists online, I think we’ll see better, more powerful, less stupid tools.”
Regina had these points for artists to consider:
- There’s a lot of bad advice out there; don’t follow that which contradicts everything you’ve learned with your own experience. Compare notes with other artists. Trust your instinct/experience.
- Evaluate opportunities for exposure; how much will it cost you in money and time? What will you realistically gain? Is the venue one where buyers go, particularly your buyers?
- Don’t underprice your work.
- Buyers want work that’s original and well executed. They want value but they don’t want “cheap.”
- “Some people try to make “quick easy things” that they can sell very cheaply – not many buyers for that. Some people expect thousands of dollars for medium sized good but unremarkable work -not many buyers for that either. Unremarkable work priced fairly does sell. Remarkable very original work does sell too, and at a higher price point (it has to still be well made).”
- Get some experience showing and selling. Take advantage of the knowledge you gain from each experience.
- Don’t be afraid to be original; there’s a demand for safe, unremarkable work, but there’s an oversupply of it.
- Work must be well made.
- Produce 50 to 100 wowza pieces per year.
- Personal style that people recognize as “you” is important.
- Math–know where your money is going, and coming from. Spreadsheets help. Helps you determine the prices you need to get, to make a living, and what can be your rock bottom price.
- If your art isn’t supporting you right now, you may need a day job while you learn and improve.
I’ve watched Lynnette’s art business grow in the short time I’ve been on Red Bubble. Her recent newsletters in her RB Journals show she’s done an impressive job promoting herself, getting shows, and finding multiple ways to earn money from her artwork.
Lynnette’s sales were up for her direct sales, which she made through social media, networking, and her art sites. However, she noted that art fair sales were down, and wondered if it was because it was an election year. Her sales come from galleries, online, word of mouth, and private sales.
She feels that maintaining control over your work, and not just leaving it in the hands of galleries, is important. She feels there are more opportunities now than ever, primarily due to the internet and social media, but noted that, “The signal to noise ratio is high, but at least the opportunity is there for you to directly reach out to collectors…”
Lynnette says she spends about half her working time on business and half on making art.
She states that an artist needs to actively pursue having a very strong online presence these days, and that while you can make online sales, it doesn’t cancel out the importance of physically showing your work (in galleries). Both have a purpose.
Lynnette mentioned the “disconnect” between the public and the art world, that people need to realize they can buy and enjoy art; “It’s not just for museums.” She went on to say that high end galleries need to get back into the joy of art for its own sake, rather than investment. “People need to buy art because they like or enjoy it, not because their art dealer told them it would be worth tens times what is now in five years.”
Lynnette’s advice for those starting out or struggling to make it work?
- Figure out what works for you, there is no one way to success.
- Don’t undercharge for your work.
- Wear your artist hat when making the art, but put on your business hat when trying to sell it.
- You’re not a “sell out” for wanting to earn an income from your skills.
- Break down goals into manageable steps.
- Never talk negatively about yourself or your art, particularly to the public.
- Have a variety of price points.
- Have multiple sources of revenue streams, like prints, licensing deals, etc. But, don’t stretch yourself too thin.
- Half the secret to success is just hanging in there long enough.