Above all, every beginning artist needs exposure. You can’t eat it, but to survive you must have faith that exposure eventually equals income. The idea is that if your work is exposed to the right crowd, paying customers will emerge. The trick is to get the most exposure for the amount of effort and money you invest. There are a lot of ways to get your work and your name out there. I found that juried competitions are great for both exposure and resume building, but the expenses involved often outweighed the income. So I had to balance competitions with more profitable venues, such as outdoor arts festivals. These festivals weren’t mentioned in college—I discovered them listed in the back of The Artist’s Magazine at a time when I desperately needed some place to show and sell my paintings. At my first festival, I made one small painting sale, and I was hooked for the next seven years.
Racing the Sun (watercolor, 26×40)
Although I pursued my quest for greater exposure without the benefit of a business background, when I look back, I can see several hard choices I made that contributed to my sales success. For example, I document all of my work with photographs and slides, I offer reproductions of my work, I’ve produced catalogs, I have a Web site and I often donate reproductions to charities. Many of these required a financial investment at a time when finances were hard to come by. Nevertheless, I believed in my work, so I saw these as investments in my career.
Supply and demand rules the art market. When you’re selling more work than you can produce, you can increase your prices to capitalize on the demand. Be cautious about raising prices though, because it’s suicide to jump too fast and bad form to back up. Drastically discounting your work does nothing for your reputation as an artist. If a client thinks your work is too expensive and wants a discount, tell them "my prices are firm, but my terms are negotiable", and offer them an installment plan. I’ve made some of my best friends by offering my work to them on an installment plan.