Minding Your Marketing

Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to market and sell your artwork without compromising your artistic integrity. Artists do it every day. But because it’s not always easy to make the transition from artist to businessperson, we called on some top-selling artists for their advice:

1. Make sure you’re ready. It never hurts to test the waters before you dive into a full-scale marketing plan. “Be sure you’re ready when you put yourself out there,” advises Malcolm Brown, a mixed- media artist in Cleveland, Ohio. “You can test your readiness by participating in local festivals. There, you can see whether there’s a market for you.”

In addition to sales, a festival also gives you the opportunity for feedback from potential customers, says Minnesota&#151based Steven J. Levin. “We spend so much time in the studio and only have our friends to get opinions from.”

Use these tools to determine if you and your art are ready for bigger sales and marketing efforts. You can also figure out whether you should target a different market, or if it’s time to polish your art making skills.

2. Make time for business. Being an artist is a career that requires more than creating fabulous paintings. There are many jobs artists must fulfill in order to be successful. For example, you must take your own photographs or hire someone to do it, write your résumé, compose descriptions of your work, remember when and where to ship your pieces, and more. These take time away from making your art, but if you schedule business tasks into your daily routine you can take care of them quickly and efficiently. “It’s important to be self-disciplined,” says California&#151based oil painter Hilary Eddy. “I don’t think a lot of artists take it seriously as a job.”

3. Build your résumé. Juried competitions, solo exhibitions, honors and awards will not only make your résumé look good, they’ll also help to establish you as a serious artist. “Collectors will pay more attention to you if you’ve proven yourself with juried shows and a serious background,” say Eddy. “The way I went about my career was to enter a lot of juried shows, which also helped me get exposure,” she says. “I also applied for solo exhibitions, which helped me build a substantial resume.”

4. Target your market. Artists set themselves up for disappointment if they don’t search out the place where their work has the best chance of being successful. You wouldn’t, for instance, try selling an experimental work at a portrait gallery. Rather, try selling your watercolor daisies at a flower show, or your portraits of famous musicians at a music festival.

Remember that you should also look beyond your immediate locale. “I think your market might be limited if you simply go to local galleries,” says Levin. “If you’re in New York City, that’s one thing. But if you’re in a small town, it’s a bit harder to find a big enough market for your work. And if you can do enough work to provide art to more than one gallery, you’ll be able to reach new and different audiences.”

5. Be creative in your marketing efforts. Put as much energy into your business as you put into making art. Business doesn’t have to be boring—in fact, your marketing will be much more effective if it’s imaginative. Creativity and innovation in your marketing strategies will speak highly of your artistic abilities to potential buyers.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, watercolorist Fran Larsen tells of an artist she knows who left a successful art career in Chicago to start over in the Southwest. “He decided that what he wanted to do the most was travel the world and paint what he saw,” she says. “But he didn’t have the money to do that, so he ‘pre-marketed’ his trip.” He went to various people in the community who might be interested in what he was doing. In essence, he asked them to “subscribe” to his trip. In exchange for a set amount of money to help sponsor his trip abroad, the artist would return with a large quantity of paintings and then offer the subscribers first dibs on the resulting works at a lower price. “You must be as creative with marketing as you are with your art,” says Larsen.

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